Two weeks into a partial government shutdown that has required America’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials to continue to work without pay, a passenger managed to carry a firearm through security and onto his Delta flight to Tokyo. The TSA has since issued a statement denying that the partial government shutdown had anything to do with the lapse in security.
According to reports, a passenger passed through the TSA screening area at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on January 3rd while carrying a firearm in his carry-on luggage. The screeners did not detect the weapon and the man went on to board his flight to Tokyo Narita International Airport. Upon arriving, the man realized his firearm was in his bag and reported the incident himself to Delta, who in turn, notified the airports. The TSA verified that the incident took place, but quickly addressed concerns that this security violation was a result of the TSA staff working without any guarantee of pay.
“TSA has determined standard procedures were not followed and a passenger did in fact pass through a standard screening TSA checkpoint with a firearm,” the agency said in a statement.
It is being widely reported that airports have seen a sharp increase in TSA employees calling in sick during the partial government shutdown, as upset TSA officials grapple with their own frustrations about going to work without a forthcoming paycheck. However, the TSA pointed out that the absence rate on that specific date was actually lower than a year ago on the same calendar day. The statement did not, however, dismiss concerns that TSA agents on the job are being effected by reduced morale in the face of the continued shutdown.
“The perception that this might have occurred as a result of the partial government shutdown would be false,” the statement said. “The national unscheduled absence rate of TSA staff on Thursday, January 3, 2019, was 4.8% compared to 6.3% last year, Thursday, January 4, 2018. So in fact, the national call out rate was higher a year ago than this year on that date.”
The TSA’s argument that the firearm made it through security as a result of failures to follow procedure rather than because of personnel issues stemming from the shutdown actually have some historical basis. Still, it’s not quite the argument the TSA would like to make. Historically, the TSA has failed a number of high-profile tests aimed at determining its efficacy at preventing terror attacks. In 2015, the acting administrator for the TSA found himself reassigned after airport screeners failed to detect weapons or explosives being smuggled in during a whopping 67 out of 70 tests.
The resulting conclusions are troubling in either regard. Either the TSA’s ability to adequately screen passengers for dangerous weapons has been compromised by the ongoing government shutdown, or it simply never worked to begin with. Neither is good news for travelers in the United States.