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TSA chief warns of staffing shortages at airport checkpoints

TSA chief warns of staffing shortages at airport checkpoints
© Greg Nash

The acting head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is reportedly warning that 131 of the largest airports in the U.S. will likely face staffing shortages this month, as air travel begins to pick up amid the nation’s COVID-19 recovery.

The Washington Post reported that acting TSA Administrator Darby LaJoye cautioned the staffing shortages in a memo to employees on May 30, while also asking office workers to volunteer to help at airport checkpoints.

The volunteers, according to the May 30 memo obtained by the Post, would be expected to work for up to 45 days. They would likely help manage queues and aid with administrative tasks since they are not permitted to screen passengers.

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“With this increase in volume, TSA must maintain operational readiness and ensure that the screening workforce is available to perform screening functions,” LaJoye wrote in the memo, according to the Post.

The warning from LaJoye comes as airline travel begins to ramp up after airports remained fairly empty amid the pandemic.

The TSA said it screened nearly 2 million travelers on May 28, the Friday leading into Memorial Day weekend, which marked the highest number of passengers screened during the pandemic.

In the memo, LaJoye said he expects those statistics to keep growing.

The TSA has taken a number of measures in recent weeks to ramp up hiring ahead of summer travel, according to the agency, which it said it does each spring.

These actions include allowing part-time employees to convert to full-time positions, increasing overtime and adjusting shifts to support summer travel capacities, according to the agency.

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Additionally, the TSA has also offered $1,000 recruitment incentives for new employees who accept transportation security officer positions nationwide.

In a statement to The Hill, the TSA said it is “well-positioned to meet rising traveler volumes,” and that the agency’s “concerted recruitment effort” is in line with actions taken in previous years.

“As in years before, the agency began a concerted recruitment effort this past winter in anticipation of increasing volumes and is on pace with established benchmarks to meet hiring goals,” the agency said.

 “The agency continues to leverage established, creative recruitment strategies to meet personnel needs, including nationwide recruitment incentives and targeted retention incentives in strategic markets,” the agency added.

 

The TSA said that while it has brought on 3,100 new employees in recent months, approximately 2,090 have left since the beginning of this year, according to the Post.

The agency is hoping for an additional 3,000 by the end of the summer, the newspaper noted.

According to an agency assessment obtained by the Post, the TSA was short-staffed by at least 2,500 officers heading into June, causing some of the largest airports to be at a loss of about 100 officers, compared to projected staffing needs.

Five of the country’s largest airports were lacking at least one-tenth of their projected staffing needs, according to the Post: Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Denver International Airport, Dulles International Airport outside Washington, St. Louis Lambert International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport, according to the Post.

-- Updated 7 p.m.