A passenger with a firearm in his carry-on was able to pass through a TSA security checkpoint undetected and board his flight amid a government shutdown that is reportedly affecting agency employees showing up to work.
TSA says that the traveler passed through the security checkpoint at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport with the gun in his luggage, boarded his Delta Air Lines flight and was able to fly to Tokyo.
“TSA has determined standard procedures were not followed and a passenger did in fact pass through a standard screening TSA checkpoint with a firearm at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on the morning of January 3,” the agency tells PEOPLE in a statement.
When contacted for comment by PEOPLE, the Georgia public affairs spokesperson for TSA did not immediately respond to questions. PEOPLE received an automated reply stating the individual was “on furlough until further notice due to the partial government shutdown,” now touted as the longest in history on its 24th day.
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According to CNN, the passenger forgot his firearm was in his carry-on luggage, and the incident was not part of a TSA security test.
“Upon the customer’s disclosure, the airline reported the incident to TSA,” Delta tells PEOPLE in a statement. According to the Washington Post, the passenger cooperated and “was met by Japanese authorities upon landing.”
Although the security breach occurred two weeks into the government shut down amid reports that TSA agents have been calling in sick while they are required to work without receiving pay, the agency says the incident was unrelated.
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“The perception that this might have occurred as a result of the partial government shutdown would be false,” TSA told CNN. “The national unscheduled absence rate of TSA staff on Thursday, January 3, 2019, was 4.8% compared to 6.3% last year, Thursday, January 4, 2018. So in fact, the national call out rate was higher a year ago than this year on that date.”
The TSA’s trouble with detecting weapons is not a new issue either.
CNN points out that in 2015, the acting administrator for the TSA was reassigned to another department after a report concluded that employees “failed to detect explosives and weapons in nearly every test that an undercover team conducted at dozens of airports.”
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The agency has been denying that its employees are taking part in a “sick out” over lack of pay since the shutdown began. However, Monday morning the agency did report a spike in call outs, with 7.6% absent, according to a tweet from assistant administrator for public affairs Michael Bilello.
USA Today reports that both Miami and Houston International Airports have shut down TSA checkpoints — with Houston closing an entire terminal — to try and get ahead of potential issues posed by the shutdown.
Currently, 800,000 government employees are working without pay or on furlough during the government shut down according to the Post. An estimated 51,000 TSA agents are among them. Still, the agency maintains that flying is safe.
“Security standards will NOT and have NOT been compromised,” Bilello, wrote on Twitter on Jan. 11. “TSA has and will continue to maintain security standards at our nation’s airports. #NotOnOurWatch.”
TSA also announced that on Jan. 11, administrator David Pekoske provided a day’s pay for the employees on duty the day after the shutdown began and awarded bonuses to those who worked through the holidays.
“On Friday, January 11th, Administrator Pekoske (@TSA_Pekoske) processed compensation to all TSA employees who worked on Saturday, December 22, the day immediately following the start of the lapse in funding,” TSA tells PEOPLE in a statement. “In addition to this, he approved awards of $500 for each uniformed screening officer, in recognition of their hard work during yet another busy holiday travel season, maintaining the highest of security standards during an extraordinary period.”
Pekoske addressed the incident on Twitter, stating that he was able to commission the paychecks due to “unique authorities provided TSA in law.”
“While I realize this is not what you are owed for your hard work … and what you deserve, I hope these actions alleviate some of the financial hardship many of you are facing,” he wrote.
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