TSA officers continue work through government shutdown, with pay in question

A TSA checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson during the rollout of smart lanes in 2016.  BOB ANDRES  / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

A TSA checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson during the rollout of smart lanes in 2016.  BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Thousands of Transportation Security Administration officers at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport are continuing to work without pay through the federal shutdown.

But the agency acknowledged there has been an increase in the number of unscheduled absences among the TSA workforce of more than 51,000 nationally.

According to the TSA in a message from its media relations department, its rate of unscheduled absences had increased to 5 percent on Tuesday, up from 3.9 percent a year ago.

Still, the agency said 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes in security lines, and 94.8 percent waited less than 15 minutes.

At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, lines haven’t appeared to be significantly longer than normal so far. Early January after the holidays is typically a slow travel period, reducing the risk of big crowds and long wait times.

But this Friday will be the first payday on which federal workers are at risk of not receiving a paycheck if the shutdown continues.

The American Federation of Government Employees union’s TSA council president Hydrick Thomas said in a written statement that some workers “have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce of this shutdown.” That, according to Thomas, could increase wait times if it continues.

Officials from airline, airport and aviation industry groups; unions representing pilots, air traffic controllers, flight attendants and others; along with some members of Congress plan to hold a rally Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to call for an end to the government shutdown.

A major airport industry group, Airports Council International, sent a letter this week to President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell imploring them to resolve the shutdown and saying: “TSA staffing shortages brought on by this shutdown are likely to further increase checkpoint wait times and may even lead to the complete closure of some checkpoints.”

The association said the shutdown "is already causing numerous problems at our nation's airport, such as longer wait times at TSA checkpoints and CBP airports-of-entry" and other delays. "The shutdown has worsened the existing challenges at some airports with lengthy TSA checkpoint wait times due to the combined effects of insufficient TSA staffing, growing passenger traffic, and increased scrutiny of passengers and their carry-on baggage."

TSA will suffer over the long term from an inability to recruit and retain employees, exacerbating its staffing challenges, according to ACI.

Customs and Border Protection “faces similar staffing challenges,” resulting in long wait times and missed connections, ACI president and CEO Kevin Burke wrote in the letter. And the shutdown also exacerbates staffing issues in the air traffic controller workforce, he added.