Do not be alarmed if one day soon you see TSA officers wearing face masks at airport security checkpoints.
The House later this week will consider an amendment to the TSA Authorization Bill that would allow transportation security officers to wear “personal protective equipment” (PPE) including protective masks during any public health emergency. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) stems from concern during the recent swine flu outbreak that TSOs and Customs and Border Protection officers might spread the virus to colleagues, family members and neighbors if they came into contact with infected passengers.
The Department of Homeland Security said officers in close contact with infected passengers should wear protective gear and take other preventative measures, but never issued formal guidelines that TSOs or CBP officers could wear gear without seeking permission from supervisors. The department cited medical advice from the CDC and other government health agencies that deemed such guidelines unnecessary.
Lynch, who chairs a House subcommittee on federal employee issues, called the DHS decision “lame” during a May hearing and threatened legislative action if DHS failed to issue written guidelines. Officials admitted at the time that some CBP supervisors at U.S.-Mexico border crossings did not permit officers to wear masks while screening travelers, even as Mexican counterparts wore them at nearby Mexican border crossings. Lynch plans similar legislation for CBP officers in a separate authorization bill.
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