During Hearing, Tester Pushes TSA Administrator Nominee on Airport Staffing and Pay Equity, Pipeline Security

Senator secured more than $8 billion for TSA in last year’s government funding package

U.S. Senator Jon Tester pushed David Pekoske, the nominee to be the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), on staffing and pay equity issues for the Transportation Security Officers (TSO) who protect America’s airports and on oil and gas pipeline security during a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee this week.

“So when it comes to the airport staffing, you’re about eight percent down,” said Tester. “How have you dealt with, I mean you’re getting an influx of two million passengers a day, how have you dealt with the line issue with your staffing being eight percent down?”

“We’ve dealt with it successfully with a lot of hard work at the local level, we have really, really good relationships between our airport leadership and the owners and operators of the airports and the carriers,” said Pekoske. “We all work together to try to make sure that a passenger gets onboard the plane and can depart as quickly and safely and securely as possible.”

“You have previously testified before the House, I believe, that you support writing into law full collective bargaining rights and pay equity for Transportation Security Officers at TSA,” said Tester. “This Committee has [my] legislation before it that would do exactly that. Tell me why you are supportive of these provisions and why you think it will make a difference.”

“Pay equity is critically important as I said before just to make sure we can hire retain an d be fair—fairly compensate our employees who have critical national security roles,” said Pekoske. “With full collective bargaining, I support full collective bargaining, TSA has had limited collective bargaining since its inception 20 years ago….As I look at this, we’ve been 20 years doing limited collective bargaining and it hasn’t gotten us to where we need to be.”

68 million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints in June, which is 89 percent of June 2019 levels. Security risks associated with long wait times and crowded checkpoints have been a concern during the air travel rebound, and in June, TSA had a current staffing level of roughly 48,000 Officers and Transportation Security Managers, which is approximately 8.5 percent below the planned staffing level.

Tester also pushed Pekoske on staffing needs at TSA’s divisions covering pipeline security, which is essential to America’s energy supply and national defense. TSA has primary responsibility for overseeing the physical security and cybersecurity of pipeline systems, which face ongoing cybersecurity threats, such as the Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021.

Senator Tester has been Montana’s leading champion for improving our nation’s homeland security and national defense. He recently cosponsored the Rights for TSA Workforce Act of 2021, which would guarantee collective bargaining rights for TSOs and transition TSA employees to the Government Service pay-scale to ensure pay equity, and give them similar merit service protections to the rest of the civil service workforce. He also fought for and secured $8.49 billion—a $176 million increase—in last year’s government funding package.

Tester has also led the charge to upgrade Montana’s airport infrastructure. He recently secured approximately $144 million for 69 Montana airports through his bipartisan infrastructure law, which will be awarded over five years through the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Improvement Grants, which can be used to construct or repair runways and taxiways as well as make terminal and gate improvements.

Full video of Tester’s exchange with Pekoske can be found HERE.