TSA struggles with lowest staffing in years, despite call for heightened security

At a time when airport security is at the top of people’s minds, the agency responsible for protecting our nation’s airports is experiencing its lowest staffing levels in years.

That’s what we learned after talking to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

At Honolulu International Airport, we saw travelers standing in a security line that went out the door. People we spoke with said it’s nothing new.

“The security lines itself I feel are longer in the general lines,” said traveler Bill St. Clair.

“You usually wait about 30 minutes?” KHON2 asked.

“Yes, and that’s normal,” said traveler Joan Kashimoto.

“Historically, the spring break period really is a lot busier in terms of volume and passenger numbers,” said state Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara.

But when we checked with TSA, we found out this isn’t just about spring break.

A spokesman said the agency’s budget, which is allocated by Congress, caps screening workforce staffing at the same level as fiscal year 2015, and this is TSA’s lowest staffing level in five years.

While TSA’s front-line staffing budget has declined every year in the past three years, the number of travelers has gone up.

Nationally, passenger volume has increased seven percent from last year, and statewide, a million more international passengers traveled to Hawaii since 2009.

TSA says it’s working to resolve staffing issues. One solution is expected this summer.

Spokesman Nico Melendez said the agency has to manage its overtime between now and the summer season so it has more money to spend on overtime during the summer peak.

Overtime funding this summer will be prioritized based on airport volume. The agency did not say how Hawaii airports are prioritized, but it did say overtime funding would help with the longer wait times.

What about hiring more TSA agents?

“At many airports, adding additional TSA screeners would not reduce wait times as the terminals are already accommodating all the TSA screening lanes and screeners they can physically hold,” Melendez replied.

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