This was a vote on an amendment by Rep. John Mica (R-FL) that would cut funding for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners by $270 million (TSA screeners are the security personnel at airports who screen passengers as they pass through security before boarding a plane). This amendment was offered to legislation authorizing annual funding for Homeland Security Department programs.
Mica, who had repeatedly criticized federal TSA screeners as inefficient, argued that airports needed more private, federally contracted screeners--rather than screeners who work directly for the federal government. He contended that the intent of his amendment was to give the Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to use the $270 million cut from federal screeners to hire private, contracted employees. Mica’s amendment, however, made no mention of private contractors.
Mica argued: “It's not that I'm just a Johnny-come-lately on the floor to do some mischief with TSA. It's that I helped to actually create the agency. I want it to be effective. I want taxpayer money to be properly expended. But when I see the results--and I've seen the way the TSA operates. They started with 16,500 screeners on 9/11. And what failed on 9/11 was not the private screeners. It was the federal government, because the federal Government failed to put in place the rules, the protocols, the standards and the levels of operation…. I'm saying that this amendment does make certain that for a very cost-effective means of providing passenger screening, we can do a better job. We'll have the money available, and we won't rely on just the all-federal model.”
Rep. David Price (D-NC) opposed the amendment: “I've been listening carefully to the gentleman as he described his intentions in offering this amendment, and all I can do, I think all any of us can do, is react to the amendment before us, not to hypothetical future amendments or future administrative actions. And on the face of it, I oppose this amendment. The [underlying Homeland Security] bill provides $3.03 billion for screeners. This amendment would cut funding by $270 million. If this amendment is accepted, TSA would need to lay off 5,000 screeners. That's 10 percent of the current screener workforce….there's no way around it: this would decrease security. It would lead to longer wait lines just at a time when passenger growth is rebounding at our country's airports….Now, the gentleman has talked about giving the Secretary discretion to somehow make up for this cut in the private screener force. But there is really nothing in this amendment that grants such discretion. There is not any augmenting in this amendment of the private screener account, nor is there any assurance that even if that account were to be augmented, that the people that could be hired would replace, one for one, the 5,000 we are talking about laying off.”
The House agreed to this amendment by a vote of 219-204. Voting “yea” were 218 Republicans and 1 Democrat. 187 Democrats and 17 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House agreed to an amendment that would cut funding for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners by $270 million. In order for this amendment to become law, however, it would have to pass the Senate.