The recent federal hiring freeze instituted by President Trump could have serious ramifications for the Transportation Security Administration, according to testimony at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing today.
J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union which represents TSA workers, told lawmakers that he had not received any specific guidance from the Trump administration on how the freeze would affect Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), since they are federal employees as part of the TSA.
“It’s our understanding that there is a hiring freeze for all of Homeland Security at this point,” said Cox. “It is our understanding there is a hiring freeze for TSA and other organizations inside Homeland Security.”
Cox went on to state, when prompted, that the TSA is still understaffed by 5,000 security officers. His written testimony shows the challenge that TSA faces in 2017 to appropriately process flyers and provide security services.
“In addition to maintaining the TSO workforce, Congress must be accountable for providing the resources necessary to provide the level of screening demanded by the public,” reads Cox’s testimony. “Last summer’s checkpoint delays were largely caused by TSA’s failure to maintain the necessary level of staffing. TSA admitted that TSO staffing levels fell from 47,147 full-time employees in 2013 to 42,525 in 2015. TSA allowed TSO vacancies to go unfilled based on faulty staffing projection resulting from expected PreCheck enrollments that ever materialized. Congress must not allow TSA to ‘blow smoke’ about necessary staffing levels.”
Looking back to the TSA’s performance problems in 2016, the organization was able to avoid widespread delays only through increased support from airlines and paying overtime to existing workers. The TSA also doesn’t have a permanent administration right now following the departure of Peter Neffenger on Jan. 20.
One way government organizations routinely get around hiring freezes is by using contractors instead of full-time workers to staff their operations, but in the past there has been strong resistance in Congress to support the use of contractors for TSA functions.
There’s another factor, however, that could increase the need for TSA officers: the recent wave of nationwide protests following the executive order of President Trump to deny entry to the U.S. for citizens of seven nations.
The top six U.S. airports received 635,000 social mentions during last weekend’s protests, an increase 3,817 percent over the previous weekend, according to research conducted by Conversocial and Brandwatch.