Should TSA keep our change?

by Charles Leocha on January 5, 2012


This seems like a simple question, but that loose change adds up. Last year the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) collected $376,480.39. It seems that TSA is just keeping the money. The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) has waded into this issue, joining a two-year-old effort to have the money donated to charities such as the USO airport lounges and non-profit airport help desks rather than serve as a reward to TSA.

Way back in April of 2009, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida filed a bill that would mandate that the spare change left at inspection points be given to airport USO facilities. So far the bill has gone nowhere, and honestly, has been sitting in bill purgatory without any publicity. But that has changed with recent newspaper coverage and the new attention of the CTA.

Any use of the money by TSA seems distasteful. It’s not their money. In fact, it is money left by harassed passengers and should certainly not go to TSA as a reward for invasive searches. The best home for this money is a charity that helps passengers navigate the airport and airline jumble. The money can be spent to help military travelers through the USO, it can help everyday travelers through airport help desks, and perhaps it can be used to help spread the word about new passenger rights, airline customer service numbers, DOT complaint contacts, and so on, through well-placed posters in airports.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune supported the proposed bill.

Rep. Miller’s idea makes a lot more sense than allowing TSA to keep the money. After all, the TSA is in charge of screening passengers, a procedure that requires emptying pockets and putting purses and hand-luggage through scanners. If the agency gets to keep money left behind, that seems like a conflict of interest.

The problem of TSA’s profiting from rushed and forgetful travelers apparently doesn’t stop at only loose change. The items that are confiscated, such as small Swiss Army knives, scissors, Leathermen, tools, and personal grooming items, are all sold at auction. That money should have some way to find its way back to helping harried travelers.

Several sources who work in the financial sectors of Washington tell me that they find TSA use of funds to be unusual (though TSA may have legislation that allows it). Most federal operations can only use funds that are budgeted and don’t have the ability to simply add randomly collected money. Coins tossed into fountains in front of the Capitol, for instance, can’t simply be added to the fountain budgets; they must be deposited in to the general fund. Why this doesn’t appear to be the case with TSA’s spare change, who knows? Perhaps, in the end, this found money will end up in the general fund.

The CTA will be following up with Rep. Miller’s office to craft legislation that will help all airline travelers rather than rewarding the TSA with cash and other valuables left by beleaguered travelers.

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