On Pay for TSA Agents at Montana’s Small Airports, Tester Presses Agency: ‘We’ve got a problem Mission Control, and we need to fix it’

Inspector General report in May concluded staff turnover at small airports could contribute to security weaknesses

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today pressed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia F.S. Cogswell on what the Administration is doing to increase pay for Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) and other TSA staff at small airports in Montana and across the country:

“I happen to come from a state that has a lot of small airports,” Tester said. “In fact, they’re all small airports. And I happen to use those airports twice a week, so I’m intimately familiar…The problem is that in these smaller airports, I don’t know how you can hire anybody. I don’t know what the wage is but it’s around $15, $16 bucks. And a lot of these airports, [TSOs] come in, they’re there for 4 hours, they go home, they come back, they’re there for 4 hours. What’s being done for the pay? I mean, I’ve got to tell you this, I mean we’re paying them about as much as we do teachers, and they’re underpaid greatly. So how are we solving this problem?”

He added: “We’ve got a problem, Mission Control, and we need to fix it.”

A May 2019 DHS Inspector General report concluded that TSA struggles with turnover of TSOs at smaller airports, where there are fewer positions in the first place. Scheduling challenges and low pay contribute significantly to staff retention problems, and the turnover contributes to airport security weaknesses.

As the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Tester has been a steadfast champion for improving our nation’s homeland security and national defense. Earlier this year, Tester was one of a small group of bipartisan senators that negotiated a compromise to fund the government and Department of Homeland Security. The deal included more than $8 billion for TSA as well as a number of Tester’s national security priorities for Montana, including the restoration of funding for the TSA Law Enforcement Officer program to $46 million—a critical program for security in airports across the state.

He has also fought for investments in Montana’s airports, securing more than $20 million in funding for airport infrastructure projects across the state this year alone.

In today’s hearing, Tester also addressed the mandate for automated secure exit lane systems and urged TSA to provide assistance to enable smaller airports to adopt exit lane technologies.