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Border Crisis Will Impact Airports, TSA Employees' Union Says


Some people who protect American airports are not so sure they want to be sent to protect the border too. The Trump administration has talked of moving employees and money from the Transportation Security Administration to address border security. That prompted the American Federation of Government Employees to warn of a, quote, "operational disaster during the summer travel season at airports." AFGE's public policy director is Jackie Simon, and he's on - and she's on the line.

Good morning.

JACKIE SIMON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What is wrong with moving over a few hundred TSA employees?

SIMON: Well, moving over a few hundred employees is bad enough. But the plan that we heard about yesterday is a lot more severe than that. They're talking about reallocating, repurposing money that's been appropriated to TSA for workers' comp, for new equipment to detect explosives and weapons at airport checkpoints. This is all very troubling. But, of course, you know, the idea of diverting TSA officers from their very, very important role at the airport to the border is problematic by itself too.

INSKEEP: Although, I'm trying to think this through from the vantage point of the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security. They would be taking away money for new, advanced airport screening. That sounds bad. But you can also imagine the logic where that's equipment to be purchased in the future anyway, and there is a crisis now at the border.

SIMON: Well, here's the scenario we envision - very, very long lines at airports because they'll have to close checkpoints. They won't have enough staff. And then we'll have a narrative that TSA can't do anything right. They can't manage their resources properly. They can't function and provide adequate security at airports, so let's go back to pre-9/11 private, minimum-wage airport screening. That's the narrative we hear over and over again.

And this is extremely ironic because just yesterday morning, there was a hearing in the House of Representatives where they discussed the results of a blue-ribbon panel. And this blue-ribbon panel's conclusions - not that we agreed with every one of them - was that, you know, the tremendous turnover that TSA experienced, it's - they've - over the last - less than a decade, they've lost - they've had to replace the entire 44,000...


SIMON: ...Screener workforce as a result of low pay and mismanagement. And part of this plan...

INSKEEP: And we should note the TSA people who take care of us when we're going through the airport are not paid very high wages. But I want to ask about one thing in the moment that we have. You just suggested almost that this was part of a plan to undermine the Transportation Security Administration as part of some privatization scheme. Is that what you meant to suggest?

SIMON: Yes. I think the administration and many agencies - and TSA is just one of them - seems to be following a strategy of understaffing, under-resourcing, setting the agencies up to fail so that - and, you know, certainly this is happening in the Department of Veterans Affairs with VA health care. And we're on the verge of doing the same thing to TSA. And...

INSKEEP: So this isn't about the border entirely, in your view. You allege this is about TSA itself.

SIMON: Well, on the one hand, it's robbing Peter to pay Paul. But they get the extra bonus of undermining an important agency, TSA.

INSKEEP: Ms. Simon, thanks for the time - really appreciate it.

SIMON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Jackie Simon is public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents, among others, TSA workers. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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