WASHINGTON – Members of the military on official travel, and their families, would move through airport security quicker next year under legislation sent to the president on Tuesday.
The House gave final congressional approval by voice vote.
If signed into law, the expedited screening would not take place immediately. The Homeland Security Department would have six months to devise a preference system for the armed forces. Some of the earliest beneficiaries likely would be troops returning from Afghanistan next year, and their family members.
The bill says military travelers must be in uniform and present their orders to get the expedited screening.
"An expedited, risk-based TSA screening process is the least we can do for our men and women in uniform and their families who sacrifice so much," said chief sponsor Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn.
He said the bill also would be an important piece of the government's move toward a screening system based on risk and intelligence information.
"It also moves us away from the current one-size-fits-all screening program. Ultimately, this bill will improve the screening process for American passengers by reducing checkpoint wait times," Cravaack said.
The government already has initiated, and is expanding, a more intelligence-driven trusted traveler program for civilians. Participants include travelers in American and Delta airlines' frequent flier programs as well as people who are part of three other programs.
While Homeland Security would establish the new preferential system, Cravaack said he envisions troops not having to remove boots, belt buckles, bulky military jackets and medals. Troops could go to the front of the line, or a separate line could be created.
Travelers' organizations have supported an expedited screening for the military.
The Transportation Security Administration currently is testing a trusted traveler program at airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami. The program will expand to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul over the next few months.
The civilian program allows participants to go to a dedicated lane. The traveler will provide the TSA officer with a boarding pass that has information about his or her vetted and trusted status embedded in the barcode. A machine will read the barcode, and if the traveler is deemed part of a "low-risk" category, he or she likely will be able to keep on belts, shoes and jackets and leave laptops and liquids in bags when going through the screening process.
In addition, TSA on Nov. 15 began a test at the Monterey Peninsula Airport in California, allowing members of the armed forces to present their Defense Department identification card for scanning. The experiment is only to see whether the scanning system works, but there is no change in screening procedures.
Although it's a policy, not law, the TSA already makes some accommodations to service members in uniform with a proper identification card.
They are not required to remove their shoes or boots unless they set off an alarm. Family members can obtain gate passes to accompany departing troops or meet those returning. The agency expedites screening for wounded troops.