New TSA administrator to advocate for funding for canines, technology

5:06 p.m Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017 Business
Steve Schaefer/AJC
TSA administrator David Pekoske talks with a reporter in front of the main security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Thursday. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

The Transportation Security Administration’s new head David Pekoske said he is advocating for future investments in canine units and technology to handle passengers coming through airports.

The administration’s proposed budget released earlier this year included cuts in funding for local police in airports, dedicated behavioral detection officers and teams that patrol airports and other public facilities, along with an increase in TSA fees paid by passengers.

While the federal budget process for fiscal year 2018 continues in Congress, Pekoske said the administration is developing its fiscal year 2019 budget and that’s where he is advocating for investments in technology to increase efficiency, continued funding for canine units and staffing flexibility.

“Security is a priority for the president,” Pekoske said. “We advocate for increases in staffing to be able to meet increases in passenger throughput…. You don’t necessarily need an increase in overall staffing. You might be able to reallocate existing staffing,” he said, if automation reduces staffing needs in one area, for example.

He added that the issue of low morale among TSA workers is one he intends to “tackle that issue head on.”

A former U.S. Coast Guard vice commandant and federal contractor executive, Pekoske is visiting Atlanta on Thursday and Friday to meet with TSA workers, Delta Air Lines and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. He is also meeting with TSA screeners from St. Thomas who are temporarily working in Atlanta due to hurricane damage to St. Thomas.

TSA worked with Delta and the Atlanta airport for deployment of the nation’s first automated security lanes, with multiple stations for passengers to fill bins and an automated bin return system to speed screening.

While new screening technologies bring hope that some of the rules for carry-on items like liquids and laptops could change in the future, Pekoske said the new technologies must be tested, and it could be several years before that prompts changes in requirements.

Pekoske acknowledged one item caught at security checkpoints is a particularly significant issue: Guns.

Last year, 3,391 guns were caught at airport security checkpoints around the country, including 198 at Hartsfield-Jackson — the most of any U.S. airport. About 83 percent of those guns were loaded.

Just in the last two weeks, TSA officers caught 165 firearms in carry-on bags around the country, including more than a dozen at the Atlanta airport alone.

“It’s a concern of ours,” Pekoske said.

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