Four-Legged TSA Screeners Collared by Government Shutdown

  • Lawmakers’ plans to expand canine program put on hold
  • Dogs and handlers cost between $26,000 to $42,000 to train

The partial government shutdown is impacting its four-legged workers, too.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has halted parts of its bomb-detecting dog training program as well as the program’s planned expansion, spokesperson Michael Bilello told Bloomberg Government in an interview.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pushed to grow the the TSA’s canine teams, which can detect explosives more accurately and less expensively than other technologies. Provisions in the agency’s fiscal year 2018 budget (Public Law 115-141) as well as the FAA reauthorization bill (Public Law 115-254) were aimed at bolstering canine security.

Photo – MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
The partial government shutdown is disrupting the Transportation Security Administration’s plans to bring in bomb-detecting dogs owned by contractors and train dog supervisors.

The dogs are used to screen passengers and cargo at 47 of the nation’s 440 airports, and cost between $26,000 to $42,000 to train, according to agency data.

“Canines have been a budget priority for us, we’ve got really good support across the board in the administration and up on the Hill for canine ability,” David Pekoske, administrator for the TSA, told reporters during a December 2018 press tour of Dulles International Airport.

Existing Teams Unaffected

Applications to bring on contracted cargo-inspecting canine teams have been halted with the government shutdown, which has stretched nearly three weeks. Supervisor training for dog handlers at the agency’s San Antonio-based Canine Training Center has also been suspended, Bilello said.

Plans to train another 50 dogs and their handlers, as well as construct new kennel and feeding facilities at the San Antonio center, have also been shelved, Bilello said. Expansion plans had been part of a fiscal year 2019 budget for the agency that has stalled in Congress as lawmakers and President Donald Trump debate funding a border wall.

The 1,200 canine teams already working in airports will not be affected by the lapse in government funding, Bilello said. Dogs currently in training will also continue in the 10- to 12-week programs, he said.

“You need a continuous process for canine training in order to meet the mission,” Bilello said.

Bilello also said the application process for third-party canine teams to apply to help the agency screen cargo will reopen as soon as the shutdown ends. The openings for new providers were announced in the Federal Register in November.

Another screening initiative, the selection of vendors for the agency’s efforts to replace current scanning machines with computed tomography equipment, has also tapered with the lapse in funding, Bilello said. CT machines allow agents to see more detailed, three dimensional images of carry-on baggage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at; Jonathan Nicholson at