TSA chief pushes back on bill that would reverse pay increases for non-screening workforce

The bill from the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee would effectively reverse forthcoming pay increases for TSA's non-screening workforce, such as air mars...

With higher salaries on the horizon, attrition is down at the Transportation Security Administration, but TSA’s top official says a House funding bill would force the agency to reverse forthcoming pay increases for non-screening employees like air marshals and canine handlers.

The increased pay rates will kick in for TSA employees beginning July 2, TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the House Homeland Security transportation and maritime security subcommittee today.

Congress included funding in the fiscal 2023 appropriations bill for TSA to bring salaries in line with much of the rest of the federal workforce starting in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2023.

TSA forecast earlier this year said that the funding would increase salaries at TSA by 30% on average, depending on factors like the specific position and length of service. Pekoske said TSA began sending letters to each employee in April laying out their anticipated salary changes so the agency could address any potential discrepancies or errors before July.

“So the workforce has been aware of that since the bill passed in December, and certainly on a personal basis, the personal impact on them by individual letter from us [in April], and then with their direct deposits beginning towards the end of July,” he said.

Pekoske said TSA is already seeing “dividends” from the promise of increased pay. TSA attrition is down nearly 50% compared to the beginning of fiscal 2023, Pekoske’s written testimony states, while hiring is up. The agency has added an additional 212 officers to its roster every two weeks, on-average, over the past five pay periods.

The House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2024 spending bill, however, would prohibit the pay reforms for “any TSA employee that is not a Transportation Security Officer,” the summary of the bill states. The GOP-led measure, which passed out of committee yesterday, also wouldn’t provide any funding to expand collective bargaining or merit system protections at TSA.

Appropriators in the Democrat-led Senate have yet to put forward a counterpart funding bill.

During today’s hearing, Pekoske said some of the positions that would be affected by the House Appropriations Committee measure include federal air marshals, canine handlers, explosives experts, vetting experts, coordination center officers at airports, aviation regulatory inspectors and headquarters operations employees.

Pekoske said the bill, as written, would force TSA to reverse pay increases for those positions if it becomes law for fiscal 2024.

“I think everybody can understand if a person is receiving a certain level of pay in July and August and September, and then let’s say for argument’s sake, the budget passes at the beginning of the fiscal year, and that pay goes down, that will have an incredibly negative impact on the workforce at TSA,” Pekoske said.

Subcommittee Chairman Carlos Gimenez (R-Fl.) asked Pekoske to provide a chart with more details on the salary situation.

“I don’t think we were aware of that,” Gimenez said.

Republicans have generally supported initiatives to achieve pay equity for TSA’s frontline screening workforce, but many GOP lawmakers have objected to increasing salaries for the rest of the agency’s employees.

Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) acknowledged Congress has to make “difficult budget decisions,” but voiced opposition to reversing any of the forthcoming pay increases.

“We’re not going to do it at the cost of an American citizen’s pay that has been adjusted appropriately to be relatively equivalent to their colleagues in a similar position in another division of government,” Higgins said. “So it’s a moment when we stand united, I believe, on both sides of the aisle to find a way forward there to protect your TSA workers’ pay increase.”

TSA’s screening workforce have traditionally been some of the lowest paid federal employees. The agency sits outside the traditional Title 5 pay and benefits system, and as a consequence, has different pay scales.

Pekoske acknowledged many of TSA’s non-screening workers make more than their blue-clad airport screener counterparts. But he also said TSA’s non-screening workforce make less than their counterparts at other government agencies.

“If somebody is doing the very same job in TSA, and they could get so much more money working for another federal agency, it makes it hard to retain that talent in TSA,” Pekoske said. “Particularly in places like Washington, DC, where it’s very easy to switch employers.”

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