Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP file photo

House Votes to Bolster Airport Security, Reduce Pay for Many TSA Agents

It's unclear whether the measures – now headed to the Senate -- would save money.

The House approved two measures on Tuesday to improve the Transportation Security Administration’s emergency preparedness and its law enforcement capabilities, including a provision that could strip some agents of bonus compensation.

The TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act would reclassify employees in the inspection office who do not spend a majority of their time performing “criminal investigative duties” as non-law enforcement personnel, thereby disqualifying them from receiving premium pay and other benefits. The bill, which would also freeze hiring at the inspection office until it certified it was properly measuring how much time each of its employees spent on law enforcement, mirrors a measure the House approved last year.

The lower chamber also approved on Tuesday a bill to require TSA to install response plans at every airport for active shooters, acts of terrorism and incidents that target passenger screening checkpoints. The Gerardo Hernandez Airport Security Act was named for a TSA agent shot and killed in the line of duty at Los Angeles International Airport in 2013. The measure would also force all TSA screeners to partake in training exercises for active shooter scenarios, but would not provide any new funding for the agency. 

Lawmakers on the House floor Tuesday said the airport security bill would help save the lives of TSA employees. Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., introduced both bills, saying the reforms were a “commonsense” way to improve security protocols and save taxpayer dollars.

“Threats to our nation’s transportation systems are constantly evolving,” Katko said, “and it is critical that Congress act to preempt catastrophes at our nation’s airports by strengthening security protocols in the most cost-effective manner possible.”

A Congressional Budget Office score from 2014, however, said the employee reclassification provision would not impact TSA as it is already conducting its own review of the agency’s workforce and passing the legislation would not affect that process. A TSA spokesman told Government Executive that review is still ongoing. A previous Homeland Security Department inspector general report found TSA could save $17.5 million over five years by reclassifying certain employees.

Currently, inspection office employees qualify for Law Enforcement Availability Pay -- or LEAP -- and enhanced retirement benefits. LEAP compensates law enforcement officers at 25 percent above their base pay for two extra hours per day. LEOs are also eligible to retire sooner and receive more generous annuities from their pensions.

The bill’s sponsor in the 113th Congress, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said TSA paying LEAP to employees who do not work mostly in law enforcement is like paying “a famous chef to microwave your dinner.”

TSA operates on its own pay scale outside the General Schedule, known as SV. It is capped at about $175,000, including locality pay. 

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