OWLS HEAD – Knox County Regional Airport, in Owls Head, employs Transportation Safety Administration agents just as it does for the large airports. Those TSA workers are just as much a part of the federal government shutdown and are affected just the same as any other TSA agent. Mary Agnes Lawler, Supervisory Transportation Screening Officer, at the KCRA gave us an inside peek at how those workers are being affected.
“So far the shutdown really hasn’t,” Lawler said, on Jan. 16. “Everybody understands their job and is perfectly willing to do it.”
Lawler said, however, there is some concern for employees.
“If this continues to go on things like rent and paying bills are the normal concerns everybody has,” she said. “Just this week, the administrator of the TSA, David Pekoske, authorized TSA workers to get a $500 bonus. That will be coming this week, so that is a tremendous asset.”
Pekoske, a former U.S. Coast Guard Vice Commandant, was nominated by President Trump in June of 2017 and in August of that year became the seventh TSA Administrator.
Lawler said the Knox Airport employs 10 TSA workers, but the number on site varies due to the scheduling of flights.
Large airports are shutting down screening lines as TSA worker are calling in sick and some are quitting. Atlanta International Airport had reported delays to get through the safety check points, according to USA Today, Jan. 15.
Lawler said everyone at Knox County Airport has been on the job and she foresees no delays. Lawler said there is not much difference between screening at Kox and a larger airport.
“Some of the equipment might be different,” she said. “Everybody has to get screened before they can board a plane.”
Lawler has worked for the TSA for 16 years and was there for the government shutdown of 2013.
“No one expected the shutdown to last this long,” she said. “This is whole new territory.”
Lawler said she could not make a comment about the TSA in general, but could speak for the team at Knox.
“The crew here has been fantastic,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of support from the passengers coming through. A lot of people have been thanking us. A lot of members from the community have reached out to see how they can help us. Some of the restaurants in town have offered discounts to federal employees.”
Lawler said the support at the airport has been great, too.
“The maintenance department made us breakfast yesterday,” she said. “It was a beautiful big spread and today the ladies from the gift shop are making us a lunch. Things like that go really, really far.”
Jeff Northgraves, Knox County Regional Airport Manager, agrees in that there has been no effect on the service the TSA has provided at the airport from the shutdown.
“Another couple of weeks and it might be a different story, especially on the individuals,” he said. “They’re not getting paid, but they are all professionals and they’re still doing the work.”
Northgraves said people are attempting to make donations.
“It just started in the last couple of days,” he said. “We would love to be able to facilitate it, but TSA has some very specific rules on donations and the same is true for any federal worker.”
Northgraves said the rules are designed to keep federal workers from taking what could be construed as a gratuity.
“A tit-for-tat could be applied to this, as well,” he said. “The donations cannot be targeted to a particular individual and there is a specific dollar amount allowed per individual. For instance, you can’t say here Mr. TSA agent is a $50 gift card or certificate, but you can say TSA agents eat free or you can provide a meal for the TSA agents that are here. It’s a group thing.”
Northgraves said many people were hoping they could give cash to the TSA agents and that just can’t happen.
“I know there is a restaurant that has allowed TSA agents to eat free, as well as two of their family members,” he said.
Northgraves said that because of delays at other airports, he has not seen it affect the schedule at Knox.
“All the online reports that I get — the pockets of what they are calling Blue Flu or TSA Flu – are rare and far between. Some of the bigger airports are reporting that, but most airports and especially the small ones like us with small staffs are not seeing an impact. Our flights going into Boston are going in just like before and Boston has seen no impact, yet.”
TSA employees are the only federal employees at the airport, but Northgraves said they do take grants from the federal government and that could impact deadlines if the shutdown does go on for too much longer.
Northgraves said the grants come from a different pool of money, but the impact they are experiencing is lack of personnel in the offices to answer questions and meet. He said deadlines for projects are in May so it’s possible the shutdown could bump them up against deadlines.
In an effort to find rules governing TSA workers, their website tsa.gov was last updated December 21, and states no further updates will be made until the shutdown is over.
Reach Chris Wolf at email@example.com