TSA Pay Boost Proposal Faces Resistance From Senate GOP (2)

  • Average pay for TSA officers at checkpoints is $40,000
  • Aligning workforce with other federal employees draws concern

(Updates with House including bill in defense measure in 9th, 10th paragraphs.)

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Key Senate Republicans are pushing back on legislation that would boost wages for Transportation Security Administration personnel at airport checkpoints, despite the agency leader’s argument their paychecks are “fundamentally unfair.”

Administrator David Pekoske advocated for TSA officer pay increases during a hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The panel is weighing Pekoske’s nomination for another five-year term leading the agency. His first term ends next month.

The average pay for TSA officers at checkpoints is $40,000, Pekoske said. “That’s a very low level of pay for the responsibility that we place on their shoulders,” he told lawmakers.

He added that addressing workforce needs is a security imperative. “We won’t be able to staff if we don’t get pay adjusted,” he said.

Resistance from Republicans on the committee, which has jurisdiction over the TSA, indicate any legislative effort to boost the agency’s workforce pay and rights may face a tough path in the Senate.

The panel’s top Republican cast doubt on legislation (H.R. 903) that aims to improve pay and worker rights at TSA by placing personnel under Title 5, a section of US code that applies to most federal workers, ensuring regular pay raises and other protections.

Read More: BGOV Bill Summary: H.R. 903, TSA Employee Pay and Benefits (1)

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) pointed to recommendations from a bipartisan panel that said TSA could address low morale in the workforce without moving it under Title 5.

The House passed legislation in May to apply Title 5 provisions to TSA workers, and supporters also moved to attach it to a must-pass annual defense authorization bill. TSA provided technical drafting assistance, Pekoske said.

The House voted Thursday to include the TSA bill in the defense package, giving it a path to consideration in the Senate.

Earlier: TSA Pay Increases, Workforce Protections Teed Up for House Vote

Pekoske noted that an increase in pay wouldn’t require a switch to Title 5.

The Biden administration wants to use the annual budget process to increase the agency’s pay and expand collective bargaining rights, regardless of the current legislation’s fate. TSA is seeking $872 million in fiscal 2023 to support pay raises and $120 million for full collective bargaining, Pekoske said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) argued Wednesday that placing TSA officers under Title 5 would limit the agency’s ability to discipline or dismiss employees who pose security risks. Pekoske responded that the agency would study potential issues like that as legislation moved through the Senate, and recommend any adjustments.

“I am all about improving security, and not at all about decreasing security in any way, shape, or form,” he said.

TSA’s proposal to increase wages in fiscal 2023 involved ending a longtime diversion of traveler security fees to deficit reduction — a switch that would require separate congressional action.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who crafted legislation (S. 2717) on the matter with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), said the fee diversion causes TSA to lose out on funds that would otherwise go toward workforce needs and technology: more than $1.5 billion in fiscal 2023.

“A billion and a half dollars every single year taken out of your budget,” Markey said, “while people wonder, ‘Are we secure? Is the morale of our workers high enough in order to protect everyone who’s going through airports in our country?’”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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