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Long airport-security lines are a symptom of Congress’ budget-cutting mantra

With the TSA budget and staff decreasing while the number of passengers increases, it’s no wonder our residents and visitors face long lines.

In recent years, TSA has faced smaller budgets and staffing caps.
REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

If you have flown out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) recently, security lines stretching halfway across the airport’s entrance may have gotten your attention. While there are many factors contributing to this problem, the root cause is not being addressed; these lines are a direct result of the smaller government and spending cuts mantra that has dominated Congress.

Rep. Keith Ellison

These spending cuts affect airline travelers in the Twin Cities. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has the important job of keeping travelers safe in the air, but it is being forced to do more with less. With many travelers missing or nearly missing their flights, we can fix this problem in the long term by increasing the funding for TSA to do its job — getting Americans swiftly and safely to their destinations. 

In recent years, TSA has faced smaller budgets and staffing caps. From 2010 to 2015, TSA’s overall budget decreased when adjusted for inflation, while the number of passengers flying each year increased. The cap on the number of full-time screeners that TSA employs has gone down over that time period as well. At the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, there has been a 19 percent increase in screened passengers since 2005, including an almost 5 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. Yet, it’s estimated that TSA staffing at our airport has decreased by around 9 percent over the past three years. With the TSA budget and staff decreasing while the number of passengers increases, it’s no wonder our residents and visitors face long lines.

Initial remedies are short-term fix

Despite its limitations, TSA is doing all it can. Here in Minneapolis, TSA responded by allowing additional overtime to be used by Transportation Security Officers, and providing additional bomb-sniffing dogs to increase the rate of screening while still ensuring security. I’m pleased that TSA continues to work with MSP to decrease wait times, but these initial remedies only provide a short-term fix.

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We can afford to properly fund American security and government services generally — we just need to get our priorities straight. At the end of last year, Republicans led the passage of a pair of bills that extended billions of dollars in tax cuts for big corporations and left federal agencies underfunded – essentially choosing tax cuts for big corporations over investments in crucial services for their citizens. To make matters worse, many of these corporations are avoiding almost $700 billion in taxes by stashing $2.4 trillion in offshore accounts. For perspective, the TSA’s annual budget is around $7 billion. 

The American public pays for tax breaks and tax evasion with spending cuts to government services that they need and deserve. Over the past 50 years, federal public investment was at its highest between 1965 and 1981, and since then it has fallen as a percent of GDP while our population has grown. This means federal investment is at historic lows. And the airport isn’t the only place the American people feel these cuts.

TSA isn’t alone: OSHA, EPA …

Many other important agencies and departments are underfunded, as well. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which keeps workers safe on the job, now has half of the number of compliance officers per worker as it had in the late 1970s, and last year, funding for the Environmental Protection Agency left the agency at its lowest staffing levels since 1989.

The TSA cuts mean longer lines for Americans trying to catch a flight, less protection on the job, and a greater risk of pollution in our community, among many other sacrifices. We all value the work that TSA does every day to keep our airports safe, and it will continue to do what it can. But we must address the root of the problem.

Government agencies can operate efficiently and serve the people. They just need the proper investments.

Rep. Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. 


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