Congress OKs funds to add TSA screeners

Bart Jansen, USA TODAY – 9:28 a.m. EDT – June 14, 2016.

WASHINGTON – Long security lines at airports will get a little more relief.

Congress approved the latest $28 million shift in funding for the Transportation Security Administration, as security officials said long checkpoint lines of spring have largely disappeared. The congressional  approval allowed TSA to move funding from accounts where it isn’t needed urgently before the end of the fiscal year in September so that it could be spent on day-to-day operations.

The money will be used to convert 2,784 TSA officers from part-time to full-time, which will open an additional 53 security lines nationwide, according to Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security.

The money will also speed the hiring of 600 more officers before the end of September, he said.

The shift was finalized Monday by the Appropriations Committees headed by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Reps. John Carter, R-Texas, and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.

A previous shift in May of $34 million allowed TSA to speed the hiring of 768 offices by mid-June and pay more overtime to the existing workforce.

The steps came after lines stretched to two or three hours at the busiest times at the business airports. More than 400 people were stranded overnight at Chicago O’Hare airportafter missing flights.

American Airlines said more than 70,000 travelers missed flights during the first five months of the year because of security lines.

Airlines created a hashtag for Twitter and a web site for ihatethewait.com, for travelers to draw attention to long lines. Airlines also spent $12 million to help TSA with non-secure functions such as giving instructions at checkpoints or replacing bins.

The longer lines resulted from a combination of more travelers, fewer TSA officers and tighter security after watchdogs found flaws in screening. But security officials refused to ease standards in order to move lines faster.

“As I have said many times, we will keep passengers moving this summer, but we will also keep them safe,” Johnson said. “We will not short-cut aviation security.”

The funding shifts have already shortened lines. The average wait time for 99% of travelers is 30 minutes or less – and for 93% is 15 minutes or less, Johnson said.

“But we are not taking a victory lap,” Johnson said. “Now that summer is here, we will not let up on aviation security or addressing the increased levels of air travel.”

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