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If you traveled last summer, you may have been stuck in a ridiculously long security line at your local airport. Fortunately, the problem was short-lived as legislators voted to better fund overtime pay of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers.
The long lines could be back soon, however, and may stick around for years to come, if a new proposal by the White House comes to fruition.
The Trump administration has allegedly proposed massive budget cuts for Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agencies to help pay for a border wall that then-candidate Trump promised would be paid for by Mexico. That will not be the case, so the administration is looking at agencies including the TSA to find sources of money.
There is also a leadership vacuum at the agency without a permanent administrator, after TSA chief Peter Neffenger departed earlier this year.
Politico first reported on an internal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) document that details the cuts. TSA would have its budget reduced by 11 percent, or $500 million, with the U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency also seeing cuts. Customs and Border Protection, meanwhile, would get a $3 billion budget increase.
Fortunately, agencies will be able to appeal the cuts before they are enacted, so there is some hope the TSA won’t end up having its budget reduced.
The TSA cuts would mostly affect the agency’s behavioral detection program, which recent documents have shown are widely ineffective, invasive, and costly. The budget also proposes a $1 increase to the TSA security fee every flyer pays, ostensibly to help the agency earn back the money that is being cut.
In November 2017, flights could become slightly more expensive, and flyers could likely spend longer in security lines than before.
The big problem with the budget reduction facing the TSA is that the agency is already underfunded and faces a constant staffing crisis. The TSA was only able to solve its security line snafus in mid-2016 by paying existing officers overtime, which is costly, and leaning on airlines to foot the bill for initiatives that sped up the security process.
A look at last fiscal year’s TSA budget shows the crux of the organization’s staffing dilemma. TSA had a $7.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2017, $3 billion of which went to pay for 42,848 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), a 323 worker increase over the previous year.
This simply isn’t enough TSOs to staff the U.S. travel security system. J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, told Congress in January that the TSA is currently understaffed by about 5,000 TSOs. The TSA is also in the midst of a hiring freeze mandated by the Trump administration.
In March 2 testimony to Congress, current TSA acting administrator Huban Gowadia said the organization has more than 44,000 staffers, which still represents a lack of staffers compared to Cox’s estimation.