Spending cuts affecting airport lines

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano yesterday cautioned airline passengers to get to the airport extra early because US spending cuts have already led to long lines at some security checkpoints, and said the coming furloughs will only make the situation worse.

Napolitano said mandatory spending cuts ordered on Friday by President Barack Obama have led to the elimination of overtime for Transportation Security Administration officers and customs agents. She said furlough notices began going out to employees yesterday, and Customs and Border Protection said it would send them out later this week.

Hiring freezes for both agencies will also prevent any open positions from being filled.

“We are already seeing the effects at some of the ports of entry – at the big airports, for example. Some of them had very long lines this weekend,” Napolitano said at a “Politico Playbook” breakfast event.

She pointed to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as examples of those with long lines.

Napolitano said delays were between 150 per cent and 200 per cent at certain airports. Customs and Border Protection said in statement yesterday that the agency had begun reducing overtime over the weekend and effects were already visible.

“Lanes that would have previously been open due to overtime staffing were closed, further exacerbating wait times at airports with typically longer international arrival processes,” the statement said, noting that additional effects were expected in the coming weeks as furloughs – which will go out on March 7 – take effect.

According to passengers and the TSA website, delays in customs and security were minimal through yesterday morning but began to grow in the early afternoon. (Reuters)

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