House takes aim at TSA’s loose change

Olivier Knox
Yahoo News
FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2010 file photo, TSA officer Robert Howard signals an airline passenger forward at a security check-point at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in SeaTac, Wash. John Pistole, The head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says he's dropping a proposal that would have let airline passengers carry small knives, souvenir bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment onto planes. The proposal had drawn fierce opposition from lawmakers, airlines and others who said it would place passengers and crews at risk. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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Forgetful passengers left $531,395.22 at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in fiscal year 2012. (Elaine Thompson/AP file photo)

Show your boarding pass. Hand over your ID. Take off your shoes. And your belt. And empty your pockets. Liquids in the baggie, laptops in the bin. Stand still for the scanner. Now leave $531,395.22 in cash at the TSA checkpoint.

That’s how much money forgetful passengers left in Transportation Security Administration’s plastic bins in fiscal year 2012 — a windfall the agency uses to supplement its aviation security budget. For now.

The House of Representatives voted Tuesday to redirect that mountain of pocket change to the United Service Organizations (USO), which supports U.S. military troops.

“The TSA has been keeping the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters from your change purse to pay for their bloated bureaucracy,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R.-Fla., the measure's chief author. “If TSA representatives get to play ‘finders keepers’ with your hard-earned cash, what’s the incentive to try to get the loose change to its rightful owners?”

It’s hard to imagine TSA agents abandoning their posts to run after passengers to return what is literally pocket change.

“TSA always seeks to make sure that all traveler property, including loose change, finds its way back to the proper owner,” TSA Administrator John Pistole told Congress in a seven-page report. “However, when loose change does not, it will be directed to critical aviation security programs.”

So which airport “wins” the prize for passengers most likely to leave coins behind? It’s Miami International Airport, where $39,613 was orphaned in fiscal year 2012. That’s a lot more than the No. 2 airport, Las Vegas’s McCarran ($26,900.21), never mind Chicago’s O’Hare ($22,115.92), or Los Angeles’s LAX ($21,916.23). New York’s JFK? A comparatively small $21,201 — is that even enough to cover a month’s rent on a Manhattan studio? And Guam? $1.70.

What about foreign currency? TSA logged the equivalent of $32,493.78.

And what about past years?

2008 — $383,413.79

2009 — $432,790.62

2010 — $409,085.56

2011 — $487,869.50

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