The TSA’s army of screeners who make sure passengers adhere to security procedures before boarding flights at airports around the country are, of course, among the some 800,000 federal employees affected by the ongoing government shutdown. As in, the TSA agents have either been furloughed or aren’t being paid at the moment. But the agency wants to assure you that the shutdown — which has reportedly led a number of federal workers around the country to call in sick, freeing them up to work other jobs they can actually get paid for — had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that a few days ago, a flyer was able to slip a gun past TSA agents in Atlanta. Not only that, but the passenger flew with it, tucked in some carry-on luggage, all the way to Tokyo Narita International Airport.
“TSA has determined standard procedures were not followed and a passenger did in fact pass through a standard screening TSA checkpoint with a firearm at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on the morning of January 3,” the TSA explained in a news release. The agency went on to deny this incident had anything to do with the ongoing shutdown — that the shutdown, in other words, is not leading to any kind of lapse in security.
The agency noted that, at least in this particular incident, the passenger forgot they had the gun in their luggage. “The perception that this might have occurred as a result of the partial government shutdown would be false,” according to the agency. “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.”
However, that’s not the case anymore. According to TSA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs Michael Bilello, the agency reported 7.6 percent of its workforce out for “unscheduled absences” today compared to a 3.2 percent rate a year ago, on January 15, 2018.
The day after that passenger brought the gun onto a flight in Atlanta, CNN reported that hundreds of TSA agents from at least four major airports had called in sick to work. TSA leaders as well as other aviation officials insist that flying remains safe, even as the shutdown has now earned the dubious distinction of being the longest in US history.
Nevertheless, again per CNN: “TSA screeners have struggled to detect weapons even in the absence of a shutdown. In 2015, the acting administrator for the TSA was reassigned after a report found that airport screeners failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover team conducted at dozens of airports.”