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Pekoske Sets Out Plans for TSA’s Share of FY 2021 Budget

Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), David P. Pekoske, has testified on the President’s fiscal year budget request for 2021, which includes $8.24 for the TSA.

Pekoske, who is just over halfway through his term as Administrator, told Congress that TSA has completed more than 80% of the TSA Modernization Act requirements. 

In 2019 alone, TSA:

  • Screened approximately 839 million aviation passengers (with a peak volume of 2.8 million passengers in one day), representing a 4.3 percent checkpoint volume increase from FY 2018;
  • Screened 1.9 billion carry-on items and more than 510 million checked bags;
  • Procured 300 Computed Tomography (CT) units and began preparation for the nationwide deployment of CT systems; and
  • Conducted 1,693 air carrier inspections at foreign airports, 144 foreign airport assessments, 60 pipeline critical facility security reviews, 107 assessments of mass transit operator security enhancements, and 182 assessments of security enhancements by motor carriers.

The FY 2021 budget request supports $3.5 billion for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) at U.S. airports, and Pekoske thanked Congress for the continued support provided for the TSO staffing increases needed to meet passenger expectations as well as increasing volumes. “This investment will allow us to maintain acceptable wait times, and mitigate risk associated with crowding at checkpoints,” said Pekoske.

“TSA is also focused on strengthening checkpoint operations through the development and acquisition of new technology,” he added. “To this end, we are in the process of acquiring Computed Tomography (CT) units and Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) units, which represent significant technological enhancements from the equipment currently used for identity verification and the screening of accessible property, and deploying them to airports nationwide as quickly as possible.”

As of the end of February 2020, there are 65 CT units deployed to checkpoints with another 49 units supporting testing and research and development. The FY 2021 President’s budget request provides $28.9 million to support the procurement of 30 full-size CT units. 

“CAT also provides a significant security upgrade to the identification verification and prescreening process,” Pekoske testified. “Ultimately, CAT will enable Secure Flight screening status to be known and cross-checked in near real time. In FY 2019, TSA procured 505 CAT units, with 480 units deployed as of February 10, 2020. The FY 2021 President’s Budget includes $2.3 million to finalize the procurement and deployment of 1,520 CAT units to airports nationwide. The continued rollout of CAT units to checkpoints will improve TSA’s ability to detect fraudulent documents and screen passengers based on assessed risk. The CAT unit has also served as a key tool for TSA’s efforts to meet the TSA Modernization Act requirement for TSA Pre✓® lanes to only serve passengers with Known Traveler Numbers, which will improve the TSA Pre✓® passenger experience, and serve as a platform for testing voluntary facial matching technology.”

The FY 2021 President’s budget request also provides $5 million to develop Next Gen advanced imaging technology (AIT) systems, and an additional $3 million of funding for research and development enhancements for Emerging Alarm Resolution technologies.

“Our frontline workforce can better execute their security mission when equipped with the technology needed to counter evolving threats,” Pekoske continued. “While sustained technological improvement at our checkpoints is critically important, we are also committed to investing in our most important asset, our people. TSA is pleased that our employees provide input into the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, values their feedback, and acknowledges the concerns regarding pay dissatisfaction and low morale expressed through the survey. In an effort to address these longstanding workforce challenges, I commissioned a Blue-Ribbon Panel of public and private sector human capital experts last year to identify problems and recommend solutions. In 2019, we received a number of recommendations from the panel, including that TSA should better leverage the authorities and flexibilities provided through ATSA rather than convert to the General Schedule.”

“Recently, TSA has addressed locality driven turnover issues through the use of retention incentives as a short-term fix for retaining TSOs in particularly competitive markets. Concurrently, we took measures to create career paths that aligned increased pay to enhanced training and skills by implementing the TSO Career Progression initiative. Through the FY 2021 President’s Budget, TSA is transitioning away from relying predominantly on employing retention incentives at specific locations and instead adopting a more holistic and permanent solution by investing in career service pay, which will create a more predictable system for salary increases over a TSO’s career. Additionally, the FY 2021 Budget supports the implementation of a second phase of our TSO Career Progression initiative, a merit based promotion to 7,500 top performing TSOs.

“The FY 2021 President’s Budget funds two workforce initiatives and represents a significant long-term commitment to our workforce that will help address these concerns. First, the Budget includes $23.6 million for Service Pay to fund predictable, annual pay increases for TSOs who demonstrate service experience. The Budget also seeks $11.3 million for the second phase of TSO Career Progression, an investment that will enable TSA to provide a three percent pay increase to screeners who demonstrate higher skill levels in checkpoint operations. Although TSA has the legal authority to implement these workforce improvements, TSA requires the budgetary resources to provide these additional workforce improvements to TSOs. We are confident that the investment in Service Pay and funding of the second phase of the TSO Career Progression initiative demonstrate how we can employ our ATSA authorities to make TSA an employer of choice.”

In conjunction with the FY 2021 President’s budget request, TSA has proposed raising the Aviation Passenger Security Fee, also known as the September 11th Security Fee, in order to fully cover the costs of aviation security by FY 2028. Pekoske told Congress that the fee was created to cover the costs of aviation security, but in FY 2020 only covers 39 percent of today’s costs. “The proposal would increase the fee by one dollar, from $5.60 to $6.60 per one-way trip in FY 2021 and from $6.60 to $8.25 in FY 2022. This measure would generate $618 million in new revenue in FY 2021 and close to $28 billion in new revenue over the next 10 years.”

The fee may not generate as much revenue as hoped if COVID-19 continues its stranglehold on the aviation industry. And while Pekoske is positive and has the drive and expertise to lead TSA to success, it is worth noting that TSA has taken a knock from the FY 2021 budget request.

The FY 2021 budget request eliminates funding for TSA exit lane staffing, TSA law enforcement grants, and TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams, which were created after the 2004 Madrid train bombings to provide more security in various surface transportation settings. Together, the cuts account for $189 million.

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