Congress recently addressed two important aspects of airport security. The new legislation is focused on securing passenger screenings for flights bound for the United States, originating at foreign airports, and providing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with the funding necessary to combat ever-increasing wait times at passenger screening checkpoints.
The House of Representatives unanimously passed Resolution 4698, the Securing Aviation from Foreign Entry Points and Guarding Airports Through Enhanced Security Act of 2016, shortly after it was approved by the Homeland Security Committee. This bill directs the TSA to establish a framework to increase and enhance safety at airports serving as the last point of departure to the United States, as well as at foreign airports that offer traditional non-stop service to US cities.
Drafted in the wake of exposed gun smuggling operations involving airline employees, and coupled with recent terrorist attacks on a Metrojet flight and in the departures hall of Brussels Zaventem airport, this bill allows the TSA to provide security equipment to “last point of departure” airports. The legislation also directs the TSA to explore the possibility of partnering with foreign governments to conduct unannounced inspections of foreign airports.
The Senate has quickly and forcefully addressed another timely matter, that of funding the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), ahead of the busy summer travel season. The Homeland Security Appropriations Committee approved Secretary Jeh Johnson’s plea for an additional $34 million in funding for TSA operations. The funds will allow the TSA to fast-track the hiring and training of 768 new officers, and will allow for more overtime pay for employees. It should be noted that this action only applies to funding for the summer of 2016. The Appropriations Committee is currently crunching numbers for the next fiscal year, which will begin in October 2016.
While it’s not an easy task to “find” $34 million, the Appropriations Committee has redirected funds from contracts that came in under budget and is considering several of Secretary Johnson’s other directives, from stronger encouragement of employers to cover the enrollment fees for TSA Pre-Check to a better working relationship between TSA officers and airline employees, allowing for a more common-sense approach to tasks such as retrieving storage bins and returning them to the front of the security screening lines.
In a year where Washington’s perceived inability to get things done is getting the lion’s share of headlines, it is nice to see Congress taking swift action to lessen the stressful airport experience for its constituents.