The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request for the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) seeks to improve airport checkpoint efficiency with more screeners and new technology. But a proposed “offsetting collection” fee increase is being criticized by the leading US airline trade group.

TSA’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes a $1 hike in the Aviation Passenger Security Fee to $6.60 per one-way trip, and an additional $1.65 increase to $8.25 starting in fiscal year 2020. “This will generate $557 million in additional [annual] revenue to offset spending on critical transportation security needs,” the administration said. “Furthermore, as an offsetting collection, this directly increases the amount of aviation security costs covered by the fee.”

Airlines for America (A4A) is pushing back on the proposed TSA fee boost as well as a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) plan to increase certain fees tied primarily to customs inspections. The increases are not only burdensome, A4A argues, but come on the heels of several years of aviation user-fee revenue diversion for non-aviation uses.

“Billions of dollars have already been diverted from aviation secu­rity to go towards deficit reduction or other sectors of government,” A4A CEO Nick Calio said. “Congress should return this revenue to its intended purpose, instead of raising TSA and CBP fees. Passengers already pay 21% in taxes on a typical domestic ticket, and increasing them can’t be justified.”

More screeners

Under the proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the TSA’s trans­portation security officer (TSO) staff would be boosted by 687 screening personnel to 43,877, or 1.6% more than US President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request, according to documents released Feb. 12 by the administration. The staff boosts include 382 screeners “to annual­ize [fiscal] 2018’s passenger growth” and another 335 to account for expected growth in fiscal 2019, the TSA said.

Congress, which has been keeping the U.S. government funded at fiscal 2017 levels via continuing resolutions, is still working on passing a budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

The TSA’s proposed fiscal 2019 totals factor in Atlantic City Inter­national Airport’s October 2017 transition to the Screening Partner­ship Program (SPP), which replaced 30 TSA screeners with contract employees. A total of 21 airports participate in the SPP, in which agency managers oversee contract screeners at each facility.

The TSA’s budget request also includes $73.9 million to purchase 145 computed tomography (CT) scanners and add 19 related staff posi­tions as part of a roll-out of the 3-D-imaging technology, already used for checked baggage, to airport checkpoints. Initial deployments would be at 14 high-risk airports. The current-year budget proposal includes about $1 million for CT testing, in partnership with American Airlines, at the Boston and Phoenix airports. The TSA’s top-line budget request of $7.7 billion is $143.8 million more than the requested fiscal 2018 figure—a 1.9% increase. Staff, as measured in full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, would total 53,637, an increase of 681 or 1.3% over 2018’s figure. Compared to fiscal 2017—the most recent budget Congress has approved and the one TSA is working under—the fiscal 2019 budget request is down about 0.6% and the staff figure is reduced by about 300.

The TSA’s fiscal 2019 budget request advances its effort to eliminate reimbursements to airport operators for funding TSA-mandated law enforcement officers (LEO) at certain places in airports. Proposed several times in the past, including in the fiscal 2018 budget, the move would shift costs to airports or local municipalities, which airport opera­tors maintain would strain already-stretched local LEO resources.

The TSA also wants to eliminate funding for airport exit-lane staff­ing, despite a 2013 agreement tied to increasing passenger-security fees that requires the TSA to monitor the lanes. The TSA made a similar request for fiscal 2018, but Congress has ignored the request in proposed fiscal 2018 funding bills for the Homeland Security Department.

The agency’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget also does away with the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) Team program, saving $12.6 million. State and local LEOs would take over VIPR’s roles, which include targeted surveillance and searches, and incident response.

Sean Broderick,