TSA redeploys 27 officers from Sky Harbor to other airports

The Transportation Security Administration said it is not unusual to shuffle officers between airports, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport travelers should not see a change in wait times after the redeployment of 27 officers there. (Photo by Chloe Nordquist/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration has pulled 27 officers from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and reassigned them to airports around the country to help handle peak travel as their summer travel seasons are heating up.

Officers were redeployed from Sky Harbor to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and to Chicago O’Hare International Airport, according to TSA spokesman Nico Melendez.

Melendez said in an email that moving officers this way is “nothing out of the ordinary” for TSA and that it will not affect wait times at Sky Harbor.

But travelers’ advocates and some city officials are not so sure.

“I’m glad that they’re moving people around as needed, but it’s kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Douglas Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers.

Phoenix Aviation Services Director James Bennett called the move “alarming” in a memo to Deputy City Manager Paul Blue last week.

“This alarming news has put the Aviation Department in a position where it must look at all options to improve checkpoint efficiency to improve customer service,” including the possibility of privatizing security, Bennett wrote in the May 23 memo.

His office declined comment Thursday on the staffing changes, referring all requests to TSA instead.

Melendez did not say how long the redeployments will last and he said he is not allowed to talk about overall TSA staffing at Sky Harbor, where the peak travel season is winding down.

But the news of the moves comes as the TSA is scheduled to put another 768 security officers in the field. In testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee last week, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said those new officers will be added by June 15, which should help reduce long lines at airports without compromising security.

Neffenger last week also defended the agency’s practice of shifting officers around, and of having TSA officers work security details at political and sporting events.

While some large airports have reported exceptionally long security delays – O’Hare reported a three-hour delay on one day in May – Melendez said 80 percent of Sky Harbor passengers have had to wait 10 minutes or less in the last month.

But Bennett’s memo noted that, “Over the last several months TSA has struggled with providing adequate federal resources to timely process passengers at Sky Harbor.” He said “excessive wait times continue to persist” as the airport neared the end of its season.

The May 23 memo was public, but didn’t catch public attention until May 27 when it was tweeted out by Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio.

DiCiccio, who has advocated for privatizing security at Sky Harbor, said Thursday he was “not happy” to hear about the reallocation of officers from the airport.

“This verifies everything I’ve said in the past,” DiCiccio said. “If the TSA is not able to handle (Sky Harbor security), they should let someone else do it.”

That sentiment was echoed by Kidd, who said it is “hard to have sympathy with TSA” and its staffing issues.

“Get your act together or get out of the game,” he said.