Should TSA keep the loose change that passengers forget at checkpoints? Take our poll

by Charlie Leocha on January 4, 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 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 funds to their budgets. 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. Millers 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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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=641500399 Robert Trifiletti Jr

    I thought i read a FAQ somewhere that all changes left at TSA checkpoints went to treasury and then added to the US balance sheet?

  • AKFlyer

    Charlie, where is the poll you mention in your headline?

    As a federal employee I believe existing laws address the disposition of abandoned property, although in this situation the airport owner (usually a state or municipality) complicates things.  Agencies and staff can’t just freelance.  Adding the cash to the loca/state/U.S. Treasury general fund seems like the most equitable outcome, v. playing favorites among charities.

  • Charles Leocha

    I added a paragraph that should have been in the original post about the normal way of doing federal business in that found money is deposited into the general fund. It appears that, based on Rep. Miller’s bill, TSA may have an exception. Then again, it may not. We will continue to watch this issue as it develops.

  • Charles Leocha

    I have added a paragraph dealing with this after speaking with other government finance folk. The poll is at the end of the post.

  • Tony A.

    Our lousy airports look like they can use some spare change. Let them keep the money.

  • Pingback: Weekend what we’re reading: All-you-can eat strategies, quirky left behinds at hotels, $400K collected in left change by TSA

  • Anonymous

    This is the amount of money they turn it…….what about the amount they steal ??
    No one is going to tell me they don’t lift things, especially small change.
    These guys probably go home with more or just as much swag as airline cleaners.  I’ve seen it in both groups and all people do is lie when confronted …..”don’t remember seeing anything”…..”wasn’t there”….etc.  You can’t expect cameras to pick up on every person, everything that could happen. 
    Also, why don’t people just pick up their change ?…..Would you not take the change due you when buying in a store or supermarket ?

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