Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, TSA has waged a successful battle to keep security, safety and TSA employees in the forefront, and the agency’s partnership with Congress has played a key role in that success.
The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security invited TSA’s Acting Administrator to testify in a virtual Capitol Hill hearing this week on the topic – “TSA: Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Implications for Budget and Operations.”
During his opening testimony, Darby LaJoye, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, told the subcommittee the resilience of the TSA workforce and the strength of the agency’s partnerships were tested like never before, but he said the agency never wavered from its solemn commitment to protect the nation’s transportation systems.
“From the very beginning, TSA placed the highest priority on the health and safety of our employees and the traveling public,” said LaJoye. “We moved quickly to implement protective measures at security checkpoints and screening locations across the country, thanks in part to [Congress’] generous support.”
Congress didn’t forget TSA when allocating money for fiscal year 2021, and LaJoye made a point to express his appreciation.
“I want to thank this subcommittee and Congress for your support year after year, including in FY21, with generous appropriations $144.2 million above the previous year,” he noted. “We are putting those funds to good use, and they are helping us advance our security priorities, including the deployment of computed tomography and credential authentication technology. These technologies are critical because they enhance our detection capabilities at the checkpoint and promote a touchless screening process.”
While technology is a key to TSA’s success, LaJoye said its people are, too.
“This year, we took our investment in our workforce to another level with initiatives like [TSA officer] service pay, career progression and the Model Officer Recognition [program],” said LaJoye. “These initiatives are designed to both retain dedicated, skilled workers and attract talented new recruits.”
He also updated the subcommittee on TSA’s move to “beef up” the TSA workforce.
“Since January, we have hired approximately 2,500 officers, and we anticipate over the next eight weeks hiring another 1,600. We’re going to be extending our hiring through the summer, because we expect volume to continue to increase. We want to make sure we continue to hire through the summer and into early fall, so we are positioned for the holiday season and into next summer.”
In addition, LaJoye reported success on the COVID-19 vaccine front, saying, “60% of TSA employees have received their first shot, and 40% have been fully vaccinated. The priority the [Department of Homeland Security] has placed on vaccinating our workforce has been a game-changer. We continue to emphasize the importance of getting the vaccine.”
The subcommittee expressed its appreciation of TSA, with Chairwoman Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard telling LaJoye, “While air travelers may not always express their gratitude during the passenger screening process, what TSA and its employees do to protect our nation is greatly appreciated. TSA personnel work on the frontlines at great personal risk to ensure the safety of air travel.”
Ranking Member Rep. Chuck Fleischmann added, “TSA employees are some of the only DHS employees that many Americans come face-to-face with on a regular basis, and they have represented you and the department well during these difficult times. Despite the pandemic and considering the overwhelming risk, I am pleased with the efforts TSA took to protect both its frontline workforce and the traveling public through the expansion of [personal protective equipment], protective barriers and regular cleaning as well as leading the charge to reduce the number of touch points and interactions between passengers and TSA screeners.”
LaJoye said continued funding from Congress will further support work in key areas like research, innovation and transportation security technologies.
“TSA continues to be a global leader in transportation security and continues to adapt to ever evolving challenges,” he said. “As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and approach the 20th anniversary of [9/11], TSA stands firm in our resolve to protect the nation’s transportation systems.”