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Thursday, June 13, 2024

TSA Pay Raises Already Paying Off as Agency Faces More ‘Decentralized and Opportunistic’ Threats, Pekoske Says

TSA seeing a 40 to 50 percent reduction in attrition trends that may reduce the need to hire by as many as 5,000 fewer officers next year, administrator tells Congress.

Properly compensating the workforce while investing in new technologies will help ensure that the Transportation Security Administration continues “to be responsive, innovate, rapidly deploy new solutions, and maximize the impact of our resources” in an increasingly “decentralized and opportunistic” threat environment, Administrator David Pekoske told the House Homeland Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security today in a hearing to examine the agency’s fiscal year 2024 budget request and priorities.

The $10.4 billion request for TSA in the president’s budget includes $251 million for a 5.2 percent workforce pay raise, $19 million to implement and expand the REAL ID program, and $4.5 million to expand and enhance dedicated pipeline security assessment teams focused on the surface transportation system, among other allocations.

Pekoske thanked lawmakers for the TSA pay raise included in the fiscal year 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Act, noting that the current budget request includes annualization of the pay plan previously approved by Congress, matches minimum compensation levels with the General Schedule pay scale and makes TSA workforce pay comparable to other federal employees.

“I want to be clear that pay initiatives must include all TSA employees. Oftentimes many of our TSA employees who are not customer-facing are overlooked. We must acknowledge and recognize their impact and contributions to our overall mission,” Pekoske said in prepared remarks. “Every link in the chain of our TSA workforce is equal and contributes directly to the security of our transportation systems. All are due the respect, treatment, and pay that they have earned. The comparable pay plan was not only the right thing to do by our workforce, but it is already paying dividends in ways that will have a measurable impact on mission performance.”

Those indicators of success include as much as a 40 to 50 percent reduction in attrition trends — Pekoske noted that “when you factor the estimated cost of over $12,000 to onboard new staff, this will result in a significant cost savings for the government” — and dropping from losing 381 officers on average per two-week pay period at the beginning of the fiscal year to losing an average of 202 officers per pay period over the past five pay periods.

“At almost half the losses, if this trend continues, we may need to hire as many as 5,000 fewer officers next year,” Pekoske added. “At the same time that we are reducing attrition, we are continuing to hire and are achieving net gains in overall officer headcount. The pay period ending April 22, 2023, was our fifth pay period in a row in which we saw our total officer headcount increase, and over the past five pay periods we have averaged a net increase of 212 officers per pay period.”

So far this fiscal year, TSA has screened more than 2.2 million passengers per day on average with nearly all — 99.2 percent — waiting less than half an hour at the security checkpoint. As of June 7, TSA has deployed 302 CAT-1 systems, upgraded 115 CAT-1 systems to CAT-2 capability, and deployed 217 new CT systems, the administrator said.

For 98.8 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers, that waiting time has been less than 10 minutes; TSA has begun the process of enrolling 10 new airlines in the program and achieved the milestone of exceeding 16 million enrolled travelers. “We are also working to onboard additional enrollment vendors to expand enrollment options,” Pekoske said, including more locations to complete PreCheck membership.

Screeners have caught more than 4,500 firearms at checkpoints this year after a record-setting 2022, and TSA has trained 4,120 flight crew members in self-defense to deal with an increase in unruly passengers. “In especially egregious situations, TSA has taken action to limit individuals from flying in the future if they are assessed to pose a threat to aviation security,” he added.

Pekoske highlighted the expansion of transportation security officer new-hire training from two to three weeks, along with the agency’s Model Officer Recognition program that paid 19,478 monetary awards or pay increases to top-performing TSOs in FY 2022.

At the end of this month, he said, TSA will release the third iteration of the Administrator’s Intent, “which will focus on the 20 most critical cross-cutting issues that require collaboration across the entire agency with senior executive accountability.”

The budget request includes an increase of $10.4 million for cybersecurity staffing and enhanced cybersecurity-related measures across the U.S. transportation systems sector. “I have personally visited pipelines and other critical infrastructure operators to discuss the evolving cybersecurity threat, and to understand the challenges and successes of implementing the current security directives and program amendments,” Pekoske told lawmakers.

As required by Congress this year, TSA will deliver for the first time “an unconstrained Capital Investment Plan that describes an ideal future state in which TSA is able to mitigate more risk to the transportation sector with additional resources.”

“It is imperative that TSA continues to invest in, acquire, and field new technologies to strengthen transportation security,” the administrator stressed.

Pekoske said that the transportation sector remains a “top target” for both domestic and international terrorists “due to the prevalence of soft targets within the sector, the public accessibility of many transportation modes, and the importance of transportation infrastructure to the nation.”

“The challenges and risks TSA encounters will foreseeably become more complex, and the agency needs to position itself to be both more strategic in responding to risks and in developing solutions,” he said. “A critical dependency in risk mitigation is sufficient funding that would allow TSA to continue to evolve transportation security in high-risk areas.”

A proposal to “enable TSA to better focus its resources on screening functions and risk-based security measures” includes ending the diversion of passenger fee collections for deficit reduction to make $1.6 billion available “for their intended purpose of offsetting TSA’s Operations and Support appropriation for aviation security” as well as transitioning access control at exit lanes to airport authorities and commercial airports under federal regulatory authorities, “which will result in a projected savings of $111.0 million.”

“If approved, TSA will work with the remaining airports that do not currently provide their own exit lane security to integrate exit lane security into their perimeter security plans and assess those plans regularly,” Pekoske said of the latter legislative proposal. “The proposal will enable TSA to better focus its resources on screening functions and risk-based security measures.”

The budget request also includes $70.4 million to procure additional systems within the Checkpoint Property Screening System (CPSS) and $11.0 million for Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) programs. “These systems will address capability gaps, and detect new and evolving threats to civil aviation in current property screening technology reliably and efficiently, while also improving the customer experience,” he said. “It is imperative that we equip our frontline workforce with the necessary tools to combat persistent threats.”

“TSA needs a total of 3,585 CAT and 2,263 CT machines to reach full operational capability,” the administrator continued. “Currently, CPSS procurements are an estimated 38 percent of FOC, which puts deployments at approximately 30 percent for CPSS and 57 percent for CAT. Based on past, present, and current projected funding, TSA will meet FOC for CAT machines and CPSS in FY 2049 and FY 2042, respectively. Full and dedicated funding for CPSS and CAT is imperative to our nation’s security.”

Pekoske emphasized the importance of working with industry, stakeholders, and lawmakers to ensure that TSA stays ahead of evolving threats.

“In the years since 9/11, and specifically over the past fiscal year, TSA has not only had to address ever-present physical threats to aviation, but also dynamic and emerging cybersecurity threats to our nation’s aviation, rail, as well as hazardous liquid and natural gas pipeline infrastructure,” he said. “TSA works closely with the transportation industry to provide agile and responsive security across all modes of transportation through passenger and cargo screening, vetting and credentialing personnel in critical transportation sectors, law enforcement, regulatory compliance, and international cooperation.”

author avatar
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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