All the New Year's resolutions have already been broken, and now is the time when folks around the country are making their way back home, or maybe even jet-setting for some much-needed R&R following a stressful holiday season. But this year, they're doing it all during a government shutdown. As a result of President Donald Trump and the Democrats' inability to reach an agreement on funding for border security, the government's gone fishing. You might not have even noticed, but frequent travelers may be biting their nails wondering what happens to the TSA during a government shutdown? It doesn't look good for anyone.
A partial government shutdown began Saturday, Dec. 22, after Trump didn't secure $5.7 billion in funding for his border security proposal — which includes a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. As a result, 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed while another 420,000 have been working without pay — a number that includes employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) making it a federal agency paid by the government — or not paid, for our purposes. Security officials are deemed "essential" and therefore need to report for work even though they aren't collecting a paycheck during the shutdown — but that doesn't stop them from calling in sick. (They will likely be able to collect back pay after Congress is able to appropriate money once again.) According to a tweet sent out by TSA spokesman Michael Bilello, as of Jan. 8, call outs are at an increase from 3.8 percent daily to 4.6 percent daily.
A statement from the TSA provided to Elite Daily denies that there's any significantly increased number of call outs, and thanks those workers who are continuing to show up. "TSA wants to echo the positive sentiments of industry and the traveling public who have recognized the dedication of the more than 51,000 officers across the country who remain focused on the mission," it says. It continues,
TSA data shows approximately a 1 percentage point uptick in call-out rates compared to this time last year. This statistic does not comport with the unofficial and anecdotal narrative others have been providing to media outlets. To be clear, there has not been a significant increase in call-out rates to date. ... There has been no degradation in security effectiveness and average wait times are well within TSA standards.
However, a union official told CNN on Jan. 4 that people are calling out for practical reasons: For example, there are single parents who can't afford to pay for childcare while working for free, or who have to find cash-paying jobs outside of the agency to pay their bills. It's even harder considering that TSA workers are some of the lowest paid federal officers, according to a Jan. 8 statement from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017 a Transportation Security Screener made a median annual salary of about $40,000 a year. By some reports, the pay is lower: in 2016, the TSA put out a call for new security screeners at a salary of $25,000 to $30,000 a year.
While officers have reportedly been calling out, a TSA spokesperson told Elite Daily on Jan. 5 that it was not a "marked" rise in the average number of call outs, and that security was fine. "Security effectiveness will not be compromised and performance standards will not change," the spokesperson. The spokesperson noted that while wait times might increase, as of that date they remained "well within TSA standards." However, CBS News reported on Jan. 7 that fliers at New York's LaGuardia Airport had to wait in nearly hour-long security lines.
But as the shutdown drags on, there might be even more of an impact. Not only have TSA agents reportedly been calling out, some are reportedly leaving their posts for good. Hydrick Thomas, head of the AFGE's TSA Council said in a Jan. 8 statement, "Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown." Hydrick added that fewer officers could create "a massive security risk." The TSA did not answer Elite Daily's specific questions on the subject. Hydrick said,
The loss of officers, while we're already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don't have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires. Our TSOs already do an amazing job without the proper staffing levels, but if this keeps up there are problems that will arise — least of which would be increased wait times for travelers.
I don't know about you, but if there's one place I really want to feel safe it's a million feet up in the air. If you agree with that sentiment, you might want to stay grounded, because the people checking your bags and asking you to remove your laptops aren't the only ones effected by the shutdown. Safety inspectors from the Federal Aviation Administration have been deemed "non essential" and furloughed, according to TIME. Chuck Banks, an inspector who's been furloughed, told the publication that most of the routine work of overseeing repairs and operations is being left to the individual airlines, which is not great. “Every day the government stays shut down, it gets less safe to fly," he said. The FAA tells Elite Daily in a statement that travelers can be "assured that our nation's airspace system is safe," and that air traffic controllers and technicians are working without pay to keep the public safe.
"We are allocating FAA resources based on risk assessment to meet all safety critical functions," the statement says. "We continue to proactively conduct risk assessment, and when we identify an issue we act and recall our inspectors and engineers, as appropriate, to address them."
In the meantime, the TSA is reportedly taking matters into their own hands. According to CBS News, they are working on trying to come up with the funds on their own to pay workers. The TSA did not answer Elite Daily's specific questions on the subject. Additionally, per The Daily Beast, two groups that represent the aviation industry have asked the government to get back to work so the airports can function to their best ability.
While the government is still very much in shutdown mode, hopefully things get back to normal soon and you can start on your travel plans once more.