Congress is threatening to disrupt business and leisure travel. Again.
In passing a one-week stopgap measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through Friday, Congress did nothing to ease the crisis that threatens to hamstring domestic and international travel.
“Making immigration a bargaining chip is very self-destructive to the system of travel we all depend on,” Michael McCormick, executive director and chief operating officer of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) told Travel Market Report.
A cadre of Congressional Republicans has been attempting to use DHS funding as a lever to block current immigration policies. Although Republicans control both houses of Congress, they have not been able to come up with a plan to fund DHS that is acceptable to a majority.
“Congress appears to be insensitive to the consequences for business travel, an industry that was expected to spend $310 billion in 2015,” McCormick said.
“We again call upon Congress to work together to fund DHS, which supports the movement of people, goods and services throughout our transportation system.”
Hope for the best but . . .
DHS has been planning for the worst.
If Congress fails to fund the agency beyond Friday, the agency will furlough about 30,000 employees, 15% of its workforce. TSA will still show up for screening duties at airports, but paying them is one of the office and administrative functions deemed “non-essential.”
When DHS goes unfunded and front-line TSA screeners are working without pay, GBTA said business travelers can expect longer lines, more delays and more travel disruptions.
Leisure travelers will be hit just as hard, but business travelers typically have less flexibility to reschedule trips, said McCormick.
“Once a business trip is missed, it is gone forever,” McCormick said. “You might be able to reschedule a trip, but you can never get back the day you lost in productivity.
“These are needless losses because they can be avoided,” he added. “If Congress cannot reach agreement by Friday, there will be real costs incurred by individual travelers, their companies and the economy as a whole.”
The cost of travel disruptions
GBTA pointed to surveys of its members conducted when Congressional inaction in 2013 forced a shutdown of the government that included the DHS.
At that time respondents said the DHS shutdown caused them to cancel meetings or business opportunities in the U.S. (57%), increased their uncertainty about the economy (57%), and cancelled existing travel bookings (50%).
A 2014 survey of GBTA members found that the typical travel disruption cost an average of 2.3 work days lost. Missed work and out of pocket expenses added up to an average of $1,475 per traveler for each disruption.
“We need a robust debate about immigration and immigration reform, but not funding critical, essential services is misguided,” McCormick said. “The bigger issue is how we can get out of this short-term funding of essential services so they are not held hostage to unrelated issues.
“For GBTA, it is not about partisan politics,” he added. “It is about focusing everyone on the larger costs and lost opportunities by not having proper funding for these key services.”