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story.lead_photo.caption Transportation Security Administration agents help passengers through a security checkpoint Monday at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J.

The nation's airports continue to operate, even as parts of the government remain shut down. Air traffic control workers and airport security officers remain on the job.

But as the shutdown continues in its third week, some fear it's only a matter of time before the nation's air traffic system begins to feel the effects.

Officials at the Transportation Security Administration acknowledge that growing numbers of security screeners are not showing up for work but say the call-outs aren't significant enough to have an impact on airport operations.

According to agency officials, roughly 51,000 employees are involved in the airport screening process. The Transportation Security Administration is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is the largest federal agency affected by the partial shutdown.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Michael Bilello said Tuesday that call-outs were slightly higher, at 4.6 percent versus 3.8 percent at this time last year, but that the number was not large enough to have a significant impact on operations.

Agency officials have declined to detail the total number of screeners who aren't showing up for work, saying that personnel who would provide those answers have been furloughed.

About 10,000 air traffic controllers who work for the Federal Aviation Administration, the 51,000 Transportation Security Administration officers, and an undisclosed number of federal air marshals have been told to keep reporting to work because they are deemed essential. Government employees have always been retroactively paid after past shutdowns ended, and that is the widespread expectation this time too.

Passenger wait times at Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field in Little Rock, the state's largest, appear unaffected by the partial federal government shutdown, Shane Carter, the spokesman for Clinton National, said Tuesday.

The average processing time beginning Tuesday morning through early afternoon was 6.4 minutes for a passenger to go through the main security checkpoint, Carter said. Passengers who are pre-screened through a federal program called Pre-Check needed on average just 3.9 minutes, he said.

Those times were a bit quicker than on Dec. 21, the day before the shutdown, when the respective times were 6.8 minutes and 4.6 minutes, Carter said. The date fell on the Friday before Christmas, a busy travel period.

The partial government shutdown also hasn't disrupted cooperation between the Transportation Security Administration and the airport.

"We continue to work with local TSA leadership," Carter said.

On Monday, the federal agency tweeted that agents screened about 2.22 million passengers nationwide on Sunday, which it called a "historically busy day due to holiday travel." The Transportation Security Administration said only about 220,000 travelers waited at least 15 minutes at checkpoints, while 0.2 percent -- fewer than 5,000 -- waited at least 30 minutes.

There have been scattered complaints across the country about long lines, but for the most part, travelers say they aren't seeing any big problems. Many report security lines are moving and that at many airports the checkpoints appear to be fully staffed.

But that could change after Friday, when most federal employees are scheduled to be paid. No deal to end the shutdown means no paycheck.

For concerned travelers, the advice remains the same: Airlines and airport officials advise passengers to allow plenty of time to get through security.

And the agency's askTSA Twitter handle is staffed and responding to questions, including whether screeners who are on the job despite not being paid can accept tips. (No, they cannot.)

Those who apply for the Global Entry program may face delays because many appointments have been canceled during the shutdown. However, TSA's Pre-Check program is continuing to accept applications. Pre-Check is funded by user fees so it is not affected by the shutdown.

Still, the uncertainty of what might happen should more airport screeners not show up is drawing attention from Capitol Hill.

In a follow-up to a letter sent Tuesday, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, accused the Department of Homeland Security of failing to be "forthcoming about the security implications of President's shutdown on DHS" and pressed for answers on whether the Transportation Security Administration is able to carry out security functions, particularly at foreign airports.

On Monday, Thompson sent a letter asking Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske about how many officers had failed to show up for work and whether the agency has a contingency plan to ensure that the nation's airports are secure. However, agency officials said they could not provide written answers due to the shutdown.

Information for this article was contributed by Lori Aratani of The Washington Post; by David Koenig of The Associated Press; and by Noel Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Business on 01/09/2019

Print Headline: Shutdown raises air-security worries

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