House panel advances TSA funding boost

House panel advances TSA funding boost
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A House panel on Wednesday advanced a spending bill that contains a funding boost for the Transportation Security Administration, but appropriators warned that the agency cannot solely rely on staff and funding increases to keep airport security lines under control.

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By voice vote, the House Appropriations Committee backed a fiscal 2017 Homeland Security spending bill that provides $7.6 billion for the TSA — $163 million above current levels and $21.8 million more than President Obama's budget request.

The Senate’s version, which was approved by committee last month, would grant the TSA $7.7 billion.

The House figure would enable the agency to deploy 50 more bomb-sniffing dog teams to airports and help expedite the screening process at some of the busiest hubs.

The TSA cut its staff in recent years, anticipating high enrollment in its PreCheck program, but not enough people signed up. The miscalculation has left the agency scrambling to handle a surge in airline travel, leading to massive security lines around the country this spring.

Congress already approved a $34 million funding shift within the TSA’s current budget to hire and train new officers and backed another $28 million reprogramming request so the agency can convert 2,784 screening officers from part-time to full-time.

TSA officials maintain that wait times are back to being reasonable, but they aren’t resting easy ahead of the busy summer travel season.
 
Democrats have called on appropriators to lift a 45,000-person cap on the number of full-time screeners that TSA can employ.

The House spending bill, however, includes the cap.

“With the support of Congress, TSA has addressed many of the concerns that drove the unacceptably long lines prior to Memorial Day,” said Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.

“However, as air travel continues to increase, TSA needs to look beyond simply increasing staffing to keep these lines moving while keeping the traveling public safe.”

The House has already passed a slate of bills intended to ease airport wait times, including a bill to expand enrollment in PreCheck and a measure that would overhaul TSA’s staffing model and communication with local airports.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the full panel, suggested the agency work to improve turnover rates, which have helped leave TSA understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the recent influx of passengers.

“While it isn’t addressed in this bill, the high attrition rate for [transportation screening officers] is puzzling,” Lowey said. “We must incentivize our best people to stay in these jobs with a collective bargaining contract that provides compensation and workplace rights.”