TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – With the partial federal government shutdown in its third week, communities around the country are feeling its impact. Here in Tompkins County, the Transportation Service Administration officers responsible for securing the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport are poised to go without a paycheck on Friday.
Airport Director Mike Hall said the shutdown has not caused any operational issues at ITH at this point. The airport’s TSA screeners have continued showing up for work. “But, the longer this goes on, the more strain it’ll put on everybody,” Hall said.
TSA is the federal agency tasked with ensuring security on U.S. transportation systems, created under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security after Sept. 11, 2001. TSA officers screen passengers and baggage at airports across the county as federal government employees. While about 800,000 federal workers are currently furloughed – sent home without pay – TSA security workers are excepted from furlough because they perform essential safety roles. TSA officers across the country are therefore expected to work even with the knowledge that they will not receive an on-time paycheck on Friday, Jan. 11.
According to a TSA media release, five percent of officers nationwide called in sick Jan. 8, 2019, compared to 3.9 percent on Jan 8. 2018. The 1.1 percent uptick corresponds to about 560 extra officers calling in sick during the shutdown, compared to last year.
At ITH, Hall said he’s grateful for the TSA employees who have continued to do their jobs during the shutdown but worried about it dragging on longer. “At the end of the week, the bite really starts to come for people who are asked to come into work without getting paid.”
If TSA workers were to walk off the job in Tompkins, Hall said there is no local workaround. Because TSA officers have specialized federal training and rely on federal security screening systems, local law enforcement cannot perform their duties.
Hall said airport management is working through administrative impacts from the shutdown, like slowed approval processes and interagency communications related to construction at ITH. If issues were to arise with TSA, though, he said there would be no way to avoid delays or other operational problems.
“The one thing that’s inviolate is you can’t get into a commercial aircraft without security clearance,” he said.
While ethics rules prevent TSA officers from accepting gifts from appreciative members of the public, Hall encourages ITH passengers to “be extra nice and supportive and thank them for coming into work even though they’re not getting paid.”
Spokespeople from TSA did not provide a comment. While a TSA media release says the shutdown has not caused any security screening delays, the same can’t be said for the agency’s communications: “Please note, due to the lapse in government funding, you may experience a delayed response.”