Government shutdown prompts TSA agents to call out

Government shutdown prompts TSA agents to call out

Claudia Buccio

Gary Middleton zips his suitcases and prepares to board his flight. These past 19 days have not been easy for him and his family. As an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration, he has seen the repercussions of the government shutdown very closely.

“I didn’t get a paycheck yesterday, and we just moved out here so we have extra expenses,” he said.

Another department affected by the shutdown is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This agency has reported an increase of employees at the Palm Springs International Airport calling (PSP) out of work.

Thomas Kelly is a spokesperson for TSA. In a statement, he said that on “January 8, 2019, nationally, TSA experienced a rate of 5.0 percent compared to a 3.9 percent unscheduled absence rate one year ago on January 8, 2018.”

According to CNN, this prompted Martin Elam, the deputy federal security director of Palm Springs International Airport (PSP), Los Angeles Airport (LAX) and three other Southern California airports to send an email where he said that absences by TSA officers could result in “disciplinary action” at Palm Springs Airport. In that email obtained by the publication, Elam added that this has “adversely affected security operations.”

“If you have an unscheduled absence, you will NOT be placed in an intermittent furlough status,” Elam added. “Your unauthorized unscheduled absence will be coded by payroll as absent without leave (AWOL). At the conclusion of the government shutdown, an employee’s AWOL status may result in progressive disciplinary action.”

This was a bit of a concern for some residents like Teresa Bradley, who was dropping off her son at PSP.

“I was a little bit more worried about if it’d be delayed and if they would have to wait longer to get through the security lines,” Bradley said.  

TSA officials said that travels will continue as scheduled and that security will not be jeopardized.

“TSA officers, TSA canine handlers and their canines, TSA explosives experts, TSA inspectors—all frontline security personnel–will be working,” Kelly said in a statement. “They will not be getting paid during the furlough; however, historically they have gotten paid once the furlough ends.”

Tom Nolan is the executive director of the Palm Springs International Airport and said all flights are operating as planned. While he does not directly oversee the work of TSA, he said he is impressed by the employees commitment to ensuring passengers’ safety.

“Everything is still running normally, we urge our legislators to please resolve the issue,” Nolan said. “The staff is so dedicated here with the TSA, and so good at what they do that they are able to handle the situation.”

The fact that workers are not getting paid but still expected to work is something Bradley disagrees on.

“I think we should open up the government, deal with the security at the border later, let’s get these people their paycheck, it’s wrong,” she said.

Airport officials recommend arriving 90 minutes before any given flight to avoid travel delays.