Last week President Barack Obama proposed a US$317,000,000 increase in the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) budget, to strengthen aviation security in the United States. While President Obama’s proposal to raise aviation taxes in the coming year to find the budget increase is likely to be defeated by both Democrats and Republicans in The House, the rationale behind part of this budget increase is not rooted in fiscal responsibility or the best interest of aviation security.
In justifying the TSA’s budget increase, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee that the agency’s costs for screening baggage have increased as airline checked baggage fees have steadily decreased the number of checked bags.
With a dynamic shift in the ratio of checked baggage vs carry on baggage over the past few years, the TSA has not effectively adjusted its operations to reallocate its Transportation Security Officers and its hardware contracts to match the new demands placed on the agency. With the TSA employing approximately 45,000 Transportation Security Officers, and 71% of its US$$8,115,259,000 2012 budget allocated to Aviation Security, that agency has been slow to effectively match its staffing needs in a manner that best uses the human assets available to them.
Checked baggage will always exist in commercial aviation, however as the number of bags screened decreases, the cost of screening these bags should not increase. The cost to the agency should be kept in checked by adjusting staffing levels as needed or designating more TSOs as “Dual Function Screeners” (DFS), allowing them to free float between baggage screening and passenger screening as needed during their shifts. Dual tasking TSOs would help reduce staffing strains at peak periods and free up more human assets within the agency.
In airports where checked baggage screening is done in the passenger check in area, private contractor staffing can be reduced as well, for those who cart the bags from the TSA screening area to the baggage belts for delivery to aircraft.
The TSA’s claims its costs of risen significantly since 2002 when the $2.50. Aviation Security Infrastructure Fee was implemented for all airline tickets in the United States … and while costs have increased for the TSA, the agency has also pushed its primary mission into different aspects of transportation that are not equally taxed, placing the burden on airline passengers.
The TSA has an important job, and the TSA has a complex job, however the agency needs to reassess its allocation of resources. A reassessment of the agency’s resources, assets and tasking should allow the TSA to operate not only more effectively, but also in a more fiscally responsible manner.