Members of the U.S. military flying on official orders while in uniform may soon see faster security screening while traveling through the nation's airports.
The U.S. House of Representatives today voted 404 to 0 to approve H.R. 1801, also known as the ‘‘Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of The Armed Forces Act," which will now be sent to the Senate. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the Transportation Security Administration within six months will be required to implement expedited security screening for members of the U.S. military and any family members traveling with them.
“With all the contention and political gridlock we’ve witnessed over the past several months, what’s most important is that we come together to agree where we can,” said Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., in a statement. “In respect to our men and women in uniform and in the best interest of our national security, this bipartisan initiative is the least we could do for our military personnel and their families traveling our nation’s airports while serving our country."
Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., a member of the Committee on Homeland Security on which Cravaack also serves, urged support of the bill from the House floor. "It’s needed, it’s common sense and it’s legislation with bipartisan support,” she said.
The legislation is a step toward a more risk-based, intelligence-driven security screening system, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. The TSA is currently testing a "PreCheck" program for travelers who provide personal information in exchange for the possibility of faster screening at airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Miami, with plans to expand to airports in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
TSA spokesman Greg Soule told msnbc.com that the agency already expedites screening for wounded veterans and allows service members in uniform with proper ID to keep their shoes or boots on while passing through security checkpoints.
The TSA also is testing a military ID card-reading program at Monterey Peninsula Airport, Soule said. The pilot program is designed to test the technology necessary to verify the status of U.S. service members and could pave the way for troops to be included in TSA's PreCheck expedited screening program.
“While this program would not guarantee expedited screening — we must retain a certain element of randomness to prevent terrorists from gaming the system — the testing of this concept holds the potential to significantly change the travel experience for members of the U.S. Armed Forces in the future,” Soule said.
Brandon Macsata, executive director for the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, said he supports the legislation.
"We contend that like pilots who have already undergone extensive security screenings and [are] put in charge of the aircraft's overall safety and security, men and women serving in our armed services should be afford the same expedited screening," Macsata told msnbc.com. "U.S. military traveling on official orders are executing their sworn duty to defend the country, and as such they should not be delayed with long airport security screenings."
However, Erica Pena-Vest, founder and travel editor for GuidetoMilitaryTravel.com, told msnbc.com that while she thinks members of Congress have their heart in the right place, she's never heard any active-duty member of the military complain about having to go through airport security, just like any other American. “Most military people don’t like to be singled out,” she said, adding that only the U.S. Army travels in uniform.
“I think as a society we can think of other ways to honor our military," said Pena-Vest, who is married to an aviator in the U.S. Navy. "I don’t necessarily think that helping them expedite the security screening process is necessarily the answer."
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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.