In the wake of 9/11, the day that we are told nineteen Middle Eastern men hijacked four airliners and proceeded to fly them into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the American government passed all sorts of security measures that are still in place today. One of them had to do with airport security and the founding of the Transportation Safety Administration, more unaffectionately known as TSA.
Provisions for funding the TSA were included in the legislation that created it. Airline passengers are charged a fee of $5.60 per trip which is collected by the airlines and passed on to the federal government. Those fees, essentially taxes, over the years have produced billions of dollars, over $24 billion in 2017 alone. That should be plenty of money to fund the agency and put the bulked up resources where they belong.
There’s just one problem. The government has been diverting the funds to pay for other parts of the federal budget, thus creating the void that resulted in TSA workers not being paid during the recent government shutdown.
Under the revamp, created by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, the revenue collected from passengers gets deposited in the general fund of the U.S. Treasury and a chunk of the money is used for other matters. The original statute enacted after the worst terrorist attack on American soil specifically required that the revenue from the passenger security fee be dedicated to providing civil aviation security services. The Budget Act amended it to require that a portion of money, $12.63 billion generated over 10 years, is deposited in the general fund as “offsetting receipts for the Federal budget.”
Yet another legacy from the Obama years that was never adequately reported at the time.
How has this impacted air travel?
Redirecting passenger security fees naturally caused a ruckus in the airline industry, which has repeatedly demanded that Congress stop the practice. Using the TSA’s budget for functions not related to aviation security has caused a multitude of problems, including excessive screening lines and a failure to align TSA staff and equipment with passenger volumes by location, according to the industry’s trade organization, Airlines for America (A4A). In a letter to a U.S. Senator, the group’s president writes that if Congress wants to take constructive and well-justified action, it would immediately put the diverted billions, paid by airline passengers, where it belongs. In Congressional testimony last summer, the group’s senior vice president revealed that in 2017 alone special taxes on airlines and their customers totaled over $24 billion—more than $66 million per day. “Stop the annual practice of diverting passenger security fee revenue,” the airline official, Sharon Pinkerton, told the House Homeland Security Committee.
No wonder it is not fun to fly anymore.
And don’t forget, Congress voted to keep themselves paid twice during the recent shutdown.
The TSA can be funded without excuse during government shutdowns using the fees collected from the passengers without any problem. The fact that it is not, just goes to show how much Congress really cares about the safety and security of the American people.