The security screening process at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport never moved at jet-like speed. But now screening often is slower than ever, and justifiably frustrated travelers deserve corrective action.
The good news is that unlike most public policy problems, there’s a fix — or at least an improvement — possible, although it will take money and congressional action, two things in woefully short supply. Until then, MSP passengers should plan ahead by arriving at the airport even earlier than usual, and more may want to enroll in the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program.
The delays coincide with, but are not necessarily caused by, the consolidation of six screening checkpoints into two at MSP. Despite this streamlining, there is only one fewer lane than before.
But lanes have no useful purpose if they are not staffed, and TSA staffing has been nearly static not only over the past year, but since 2010, a TSA spokesperson told an editorial writer. That’s despite an increase in passengers, according to data from the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which reports a 4.1 percent increase from 2014 to 2015 and a January jump of 2.9 percent from January 2015.
“We can build the best checkpoints in the world. But if there aren’t enough TSA employees to staff them, then the checkpoints aren’t going to be the answer,” Patrick Hogan, the MAC’s director of public affairs and marketing, told an editorial writer. “All hands are on deck right now — the problem is there aren’t enough hands.”
Those hands that are available are even more security-focused due to threat assessments, as well as corrections to what TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, in a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, called “disturbing results of covert testing of passenger screening operations.”
While there can always be greater efficiency, reducing scrutiny is not the path to faster screening, especially in an era that Neffenger testified is a “complex and dynamic threat environment, one in which the global terrorist threat has evolved from a world of terrorist-directed attacks to a world that included the threat of terrorist-inspired attacks.”
In fact, the entire screening process is intended to keep fliers safe, which is an unassailable objective. But there should also be bipartisan support to speed up the security process. Security checkpoints should be a necessary inconvenience, not an ordeal. And the economic impact from the lost time in line is a burden. It may also discourage international visitors, which detracts from a vital source of economic activity.
Congress should heed Neffenger’s fiscal 2017 TSA funding request for an additional $72.1 million to hire an additional 323 transportation security officers nationwide (the total TSA request is $7.6 billion). Whether that level of funding and hiring would solve the problem is uncertain. What is certain is that even a gridlocked Washington should be able to agree on the need for a more efficient security process at MSP and other U.S. airports.