As if the Transportation Security Administration's $32.8 billion budget wasn't enough to get it through fiscal year 2015, the federal agency also has nearly $60,000 in New York flyers' pocket change, scooped up from bins by agents at JFK and LaGuardia as travelers hustled off to their flights thinking they had made it through airport security with only their dignity missing.
The TSA "makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed," according to a statement from the agency. TSA Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said she has not heard of an agent ever pocketing loose change and declined to speculate on what punishment such behavior would merit.
For 2014, JFK topped the list of airports for pocket change, with $42,550 left behind at security checkpoints. Of the two busiest airports in the country, Chicago's O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, only O'Hare ranked in the top 10 money-makers, because, as Farbstein explained, more of the traffic at those two airports consists of people transferring between flights.
LaGuardia raked in $16,786.05, and nationwide, TSA agents picked up $674,841.06 in loose change. Asked if the funds go to a particular line in the agency's budget, Farbstein demurred.
"It's nothing as specific as that," she said. "It goes towards security."
A Slate report on the phenomenon said that this year's booty will boost an "expedited TSA Pre-Check program," but Farbstein would not confirm that or elaborate on what such a program might look like.
Back in 2012, the TSA collected $531,395.22 and, by March of the following year, it had spent $6,539.94 "for translation of airport checkpoint signage into different foreign languages and for other administrative overhead," according to a report it made to Congress. Also in 2013, politicians pushed the TSA Loose Change Act, to redirect the money to private groups providing airport lounges for military service members and their families. The bill passed the House of Representatives but died in the Senate.
Asked if she has ever left hard currency at an airport checkpoint, Farbstein echoed the sentiment of harried travelers everywhere:
"I certainly hope not, but I guess you never know."