Reps. DeFazio, Thompson Urge TSA to Continue Passenger Screenings at Small Airports
Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (MS-02), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, today urged Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske to continue passenger screenings at small and medium-sized airports across the United States.
“There is no need to curtail security screenings and put Americans at risk when funding shortfalls can be addressed with a simple legislative fix,” said Ranking Member DeFazio. “There is ample funding—paid for by passengers—to pay for screenings at smaller airports, ease congestion at larger facilities, and deploy state-of-the-art screening equipment at airports across the country. We must ensure that funds intended for aviation security are used to keep passengers safe and not to mask the deficit or fund unrelated programs.”
“This proposal from the Trump Administration to abandon its aviation security obligations at over 100 airports would undoubtedly create security gaps and may negatively impact the economy—especially in rural America,” said Ranking Member Thompson. “If the Administration is truly concerned with TSA’s budget, it should urge Congress to ensure 100 percent of passenger security fees go to TSA so it can provide the level of security that terrorist threats necessitate. Contrary to common sense, a significant portion of security fees are taken from TSA each year to go towards debt reduction. I am proud to join Congressman DeFazio in sponsoring legislation to redirect all of these fees back to TSA.”
In response to reports that TSA is considering eliminating passenger screenings at more than 150 small and medium-sized airports across the United States in order to save money, the members urged Administrator Pekoske to focus on a legislative fix instead of cutting essential security screenings at these airports.
Ranking Members DeFazio and Thompson have introduced legislation, H.R. 2514, the Funding for Aviation Screeners and Threat Elimination Restoration Act or the FASTER Act, which would bring increased funding to TSA by ending the diversion of passenger security fees, known as the September 11 security fee, towards debt reduction and government spending for other purposes.
Consumers pay an added fee when purchasing airline tickets that is intended to pay for aviation security. The passenger fee currently stands at $5.60 per one-way trip and may not exceed $11.20 round trip. In Fiscal Year 2016, passengers paid more than $3.6 billion in aviation security fees.
However, in 2013, Congress began diverting one-third of the revenue collected from these fees to the Treasury’s General Fund. Since 2013, Congress has diverted more than $5.4 billion from TSA and will divert another $13.6 billion through 2027 unless current law is changed. At the same time, the number of airline passengers has increased substantially, leading to TSA staffing shortages, increased wait times for travelers, and delayed deployment of state-of-the-art screening equipment.
The FASTER Act would ensure that passenger security fees only go towards aviation security and prevent Congress from raiding these funds in the future.
Full text of the letter can be found below. To read the full text of Rep. DeFazio and Thompson’s letter, click here.
August 2, 2018
The Honorable David P. Pekoske
Transportation Security Administration
601 South 12th Street
Arlington, VA 20598-6001
Dear Administrator Pekoske:
We write to express our strong concern that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is considering eliminating passenger screening at more than 150 small and medium-sized airports across the United States and to request additional information on this proposal.
Today’s threat environment is diverse and significant. It is critical that any substantive changes to TSA policy are thoroughly analyzed and that TSA engages with the traveling public, industry, and Congress prior to moving forward.
Recent reports that TSA has compiled a working group to examine the potential risks of eliminating passenger screening at small and medium-sized airports are of particular concern given the significant change in policy being discussed and the potential risk and economic effects. According to the reports, the change would affect roughly 10,000 daily passengers, more than 150 airports, and more than 1,200 TSA employees.
In light of these reports, we ask that you respond to the following inquiries no later than August 16, 2018:
- What was the impetus for creating the working group?
- What airports are being considered for screening elimination?
- If the proposal was adopted, how would TSA ensure passengers and baggage are screened before transferring to flights at larger airports?
- If the proposal was adopted, how would the more than 1,200 employees that currently staff the airports being considered be affected?
- If the proposal was adopted, how would the budget savings be used?
- Has TSA consulted with industry stakeholders on the proposal?
- Has TSA conducted a risk assessment of the proposal?
- Has TSA conducted an economic assessment of the proposal?
- What is the current status of your consideration of the proposal?
- Please provide the working group’s report and any recommendations.
While it is important for TSA to discuss operational efficiencies as part of its yearly budget process, we believe that strengthening and improving the security of our nation’s aviation transportation system--not cutting essential, life-saving screening--is of paramount importance. Instead of cutting screening at these airports, TSA should request that Congress redirect all passenger security fees to TSA.
H.R. 2514, the Funding for Aviation Screeners and Threat Elimination Restoration (FASTER) Act, which we sponsored together, would end the diversion of revenue collected from an airline passenger fee, known as the September 11 security fee, to the General Fund and prevent Congress from raiding the funds in the future to pay for unrelated programs. Unless current law is changed, more than $19 billion will be diverted from aviation security through Fiscal Year (FY) 2027. As you previously stated during a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security, the return of these passenger fees to their original, intended purpose would “go a long way” towards ultimately making our travel more secure.
TSA was created in the months after the September 11 terrorist attacks in order to keep American travelers secure. Diminishing the security of airline passengers at small and medium-sized airports is counter to TSA’s mission. We appreciate your timely response to our questions as well as your consideration of preferable budget solutions.
Peter A. DeFazio
Bennie G. Thompson
Member of Congress
Member of Congress
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 Marsh, Rene, and Eli Watkins, “CNN exclusive: TSA considering eliminating screening at smaller airports,” CNN, 1 Aug. 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/01/politics/tsa-considering-eliminating-screening-at-smaller-airports/index.html.
 Preventing The Next Attack: TSA’s Role in Keeping Our Transportation System Secure, 115th Cong., 8 Nov. 2017 (testimony of David Pekoske), https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-115hhrg29470/pdf/CHRG-115hhrg29470.pdf.