With higher salaries on the horizon, attrition is down at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but TSA’s top official said Thursday that a House funding bill for fiscal year 2024 would force the agency to reverse forthcoming pay increases – and cut down on the agency’s ability to defend against cyberattacks.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the House Homeland Security Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee on June 22 that should the GOP-led measure to reverse funding for TSA employees starting in September become law, the agency would fail to provide “baseline” cyber support.
“We have put out some very significant cybersecurity regulations over the last two years. We have been very targeted with this in terms of looking at the most critical owners and operators on the surface and aviation sector, and also just targeting the critical cyber systems,” Pekoske said.
If the Republican-led measure goes into effect for FY2024, the TSA chief said, “We would lose a lot of that talent and we would not be able to provide cybersecurity baseline support to make sure that our critical transportation systems are protected, and, importantly, if successfully attacked, it wouldn’t be able to get back on their feet nearly as quickly.”
Congress included funding in the FY 2023 appropriations bill for TSA to bring salaries in line with much of the rest of the Federal workforce starting in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year.
The increased pay rates will kick in for TSA employees beginning July 2, and the agency forecast that the funding would increase salaries at TSA by an average of 30 percent.
Pekoske said his agency is already seeing “dividends” from the promise of increased pay – TSA attrition is down nearly 50 percent compared to the beginning of FY 2023, Pekoske said, while hiring is up.
However, the House Appropriations Committee’s FY 2024 spending bill would prohibit the pay reforms for “any TSA employee that is not a Transportation Security Officer,” or TSO, the bill states. The GOP-led measure passed out of committee this week.
During Thursday’s hearing, Pekoske said some of the positions that would be affected by the House Appropriations Committee measure include Federal Air Marshals, canine handlers, explosives experts, vetting experts, coordination center officers at airports, aviation regulatory inspectors, and headquarters operations employees.
Pekoske said the bill, as written, would force TSA to reverse pay increases for those positions if it becomes law for FY 2024.
“Were TSOs not able to continue the pay that will begin on the second of July, the impact would be devastating to air travel in the country,” Pekoske said. “Wait times in our checkpoints would approach two hours without question and we would also significantly lose an experience base among the transportation security officers.”
He continued, adding, “The impact on TSOs would be incredibly visible and very debilitating for the transportation system.”
President Biden’s FY 2024 budget request includes a total of $10.4 billion for TSA. The request includes annualization of the pay plan Congress approved in FY 2023, which matches the minimum compensation levels with the government pay scale and makes pay for the TSA workforce comparable to every other Federal employee, Pekoske said.
The FY 2024 President’s Budget request includes $1.4 billion to fully support the TSA workforce pay initiatives that will go into effect in July.
But with national debt on the rise, Republican legislators are looking to cut agency funding where they can. During the hearing, Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee members on both sides of the aisle voiced opposition to reversing any of the forthcoming pay increases.
Subcommittee Chairman Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., said “I don’t think we were aware of that” when Pekoske testified that the Republican-led bill would reverse raises for TSA employees in September after the paycheck bumps go into effect for just three months starting in July.
Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., introduced “Fund the TSA Act” last month, which would ensure TSA has the funding necessary to provide fair pay and labor rights for TSA workers for the full year by increasing the passenger security fee by $2 per one-way trip.
During the hearing, the TSA chief reiterated that, according to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey for the agency, lower pay continues to have a negative impact on both morale and retention rate for its employees.
“TSA’s level of success is influenced by the help of Congress as well as our professional, vigilant, and engaged workforce,” Pekoske said.