For years, the Transportation Security Administration collected millions of dollars in loose change left by harried passengers at security checkpoints. The money, by law, was supposed to go to civilian aviation security.
But a TSA audit in March found that of more than $500,000 collected between Oct. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2012, only $6,539 went toward civilian aviation security. The rest was unspent.
And that got Pensacola congressman Jeff Miller to thinking.
During his frequent travels from his home to Washington, D.C., Miller, a Republican, noticed that people would frequently leave loose change at the checkpoints.
After learning how much that added up to, he came up with an idea what to do with the money.
Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Miller proposed legislation called the TSA Loose Change Act, calling for the money to be turned over to veteran service organizations who provide rest and relaxation facilities at the nation's airports.
The legislation passed the House earlier this month and is awaiting action in the Senate.
“The TSA has been keeping the pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters from your change purse to pay for their bloated bureaucracy,” said Miller in a release announcing the legislation. “If TSA representatives get to play 'finders keepers' with your hard-earned cash, what's the incentive to try to get the loose change to its rightful owners? I would much rather see unclaimed change go to help military personnel on their way home from the battlefield,” Miller said.
TSA spokesman Mark Howell would not comment about why the money was not spent, only that it is still untouched.
And there was a lot of it over the years.
Between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2012, the TSA collected an average of $465,285 from airport security checkpoints annually, according to the TSA.
Travelers at Tampa International Airport fall somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to leaving behind change, according to the TSA report.
During that same period, TSA officials in Tampa found $4,342.81 in loose change. By comparison, Miami International travelers left the most behind — nearly $40,000, while those at Guam left behind only $1.70.
The USO — which provides services to military travelers around the world, including Tampa International Airport — is the most likely recipient because it is the only organization that meets the qualifications, according to the legislation. It would also be cheaper to award it to one agency, because a bidding process would cost about $200,000. But there are other considerations.
“If other nonprofit organizations begin to specialize in this type of work in the future, they should be able to submit a proposal to TSA as well to receive these unclaimed funds,” the legislation states. “Therefore, after reviewing TSA's report, the Committee believes that in order to ensure fairness of opportunity in the future while minimizing administrative overhead, TSA should transfer the funds after a (request for proposals) is issued.”
While it is up to the national USO to decide whether and how to get involved, USO Tampa Bay's center manager Amy Phillips said the funds would be welcome.
“That would be wonderful,” said Phillips. “It would definitely be helpful. Every spare quarter counts.”
“The lost change should be put to good use, and I know that the thousands of coins will have a positive impact on millions of our nation's warriors.”