Gimenez Opening Statement in TSA Workforce Hearing
Ranking Member Gimenez’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Chairwoman Watson Coleman. I am pleased the Subcommittee is holding this hearing today on the important challenges facing the TSA workforce. Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) serve on the front lines protecting the traveling public from the ever-present threats to our aviation system.
Over the past few years, TSOs have dealt with a 35-day government shutdown, significant volume changes in passenger throughput at airport checkpoints, and the global COVID-19 pandemic. Over 7,000 TSOs have tested positive for COVID-19 since March of last year, and tragically, we’ve lost 16 officers to the virus. I thank the TSA workforce for their immense dedication to the American people and the traveling public.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today to discuss solutions to meet the challenges of low screener morale, recruitment and retention efforts, and pay and promotion opportunities. I thank Mr. Jeff Neal for his service as Chief Human Capital Officer at DHS under the Obama/Biden Administration and in his role of Chief of the Blue-Ribbon Panel that examined TSA’s Human Capital Service Delivery. I appreciate him joining us today to discuss the implementation of the Panel’s recommendations from 2019.
I do have concerns with H.R. 903, the Rights for the TSA Workforce Act of 2021. Madam Chairwoman, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record a Statement of Administration Policy from the 116th Congress on H.R. 1140, the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act of 2020.
H.R. 1140 is the precursor to the legislation we are discussing today. The Statement of Administration Policy noted that TSA’s “current personnel system authorized by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) just months after the September 11th attacks provides the flexibility TSA needs so that it can quickly and efficiently adjust its workforce management to respond to emerging threats or national emergencies.” I share that viewpoint of the legislation we’re discussing today, H.R. 903.
When Congress created TSA in November 2001, its goal was to bring in the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector. Placing TSA into Title 5 would go against Congress’ intent and force employees into an antiquated 20th century system that was not designed for 21st century national security threats. TSA has all the flexibility it needs for the workforce from ATSA; it just needs to use that flexibility. Administrator Dave Pekoske has stated before Congress that TSA needs to “employ its ATSA authorities to make TSA an employer of choice.” Our focus today should be to ensure that TSA harnesses the creativity and flexibility that it already has within ATSA to properly fund TSO salaries and create additional promotion and career advancement opportunities.
As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, I thank the men and women at TSA for their hard work and determination over the last two decades. I look forward to finding ways to continue to empower the TSA workforce and address current challenges within the ATSA framework that Congress designed for TSA. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and I yield back the balance of my time.