Trump’s federal hiring freeze could impact TSA

Trump’s federal hiring freeze could impact TSA
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President Trump’s freeze on federal hiring could impact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its ability to staff airport security lines, according to the head of a union group representing federal employees.

The concerns come nearly a year after the TSA was under fire for long airport wait times and thousands of missed flights all around the country. The agency had cut the number of screening officers right before travel volumes began to surge last spring.

“It’s our understanding that there is a hiring freeze for TSA and other departments inside of Homeland Security,” J. David Cox, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), said at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Thursday.

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Last week, Trump signed a broad order freezing all federal hiring with the exception of military personnel. Exemptions can also be made for jobs deemed necessary for national security or public safety, such as positions directly supporting overseas missions, cybersecurity and weapons safety, according to a Pentagon memo released Thursday.

But Cox believes the freeze still applies to the TSA, though he noted that he has not received any guidance from the White House and that “it’s changed by the moment.”

“I think some type of correspondence should go out to the administration in terms of maybe looking at that freeze in this area,” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) “Making sure that the traveling public is safe should not be something that’s curtailed. I really think that’s something that needs to be addressed.”

Last year, Congress scrambled to shift millions in funding around the TSA’s budget to help the agency deal with massive airport security lines. The agency used the extra money to hire new screening officers and pay overtime to current employees.

Appropriators proposed a TSA funding boost for fiscal 2017, in part to ensure another checkpoint crisis doesn’t occur, but the government is still operating under a continuing resolution that keeps the previous year’s funding levels.

While winter is a slower travel period and officials have gotten the lines under control, the agency is gearing up for another busy travel season this spring and summer.

The TSA still has “5,000 less transportation security officers today than… several years ago,” Cox said. “So we have less people doing more screening. That 5,000 that’s been lost needs to be returned.”

Cox also raised concern that policies will change under the next TSA administrator. The last head of the agency, Peter Neffenger, stepped down on the day of Trump’s inauguration after being in the role since summer 2015.

“[Transportation Security Officers] have the workplace policies changed every time there is a new administrator, and we have had more than our fair share,” Cox said. “Each time, we go through many changes of all working conditions.”

Another one of Trump’s policies criticized on Thursday was the administration’s new ban on refugees and immigrants.

The executive order, which temporarily bars immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the country, sparked chaos at airports over the weekend as some travelers were detained or denied entry into the U.S.

“There’s been a great deal of confusion,” Cox said. “AFGE proudly represents the National Border Patrol, and the comments and feedback that I’ve had from those agents, is basically confusion of not knowing exactly what to do at airports.”

“That’s focused resources away from our southwest border, where we worry strongly about drug cartels and those that are into human trafficking,” Cox added.