WASHINGTON -- Members of the New Jersey congressional delegation on Tuesday asked Transportation Security Administration Administrator Peter Neffenger to take steps to reduce wait times at Newark Airport security screening checkpoints.
The lawmakers, led by U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, expressed concern that airline passengers had to wait more than 60 minutes to get through the checkpoints, and sought written updates on what TSA was going to reduce those times.
"Security is the top priority for TSA, as it is for our constituents, airports, airlines, and members of the New Jersey congressional delegation," the lawmakers wrote. "As advocates for New Jersey families and commerce, we are concerned by any inconvenience due to unreasonable wait times at Newark that would cause leisure and business travelers to avoid utilizing the airport."
Security checkpoints are struggling under increased passenger loads, many of whom are toting carry-on baggage rather than checking it as airlines charge for a service that once was free.
"TSA's primary focus is the current threat environment, as the American transportation system remains a high value target for terrorists," TSA spokesman Michael England said. "Our strong economy means air carriers are enjoying record travel volume, which is resulting in heavier than normal volumes of travelers at our nation's airports - some with double digit increases over last summer.
England said passengers should get to the airport as soon as two hours before departure to clear security, or enroll in one of the trusted traveler or pre-check systems to bypass the worst of the lines. In addition, the agency is increasing overtime, hiring more screeners and increasing the use of dogs, among other measures. Earlier this month, Congress approved the TSA's request to use an additional $34 million to increase its workforce.
Lawmakers first brought the issue to the attention of the TSA in February, pointing out how the airport pumps nearly $23 billion into the economy and is responsible for 162,000 jobs and $8.3 billion in salaries.
While acknowledging the TSA is working to reduce the wait times, the lawmakers sought a written report by June 17 on those efforts.
"Further, we are interested in details about how TSA will ensure sustained improvement over the long-term so our constituents can be assured that recent experiences at Newark are not in fact the new normal at the airport," they said.
Those signing the letter, besides Payne, were U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Reps. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.), Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.), Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6th Dist.), Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.), Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.), Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.).