17:39 GMT14 August 2020
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    With the US government shutdown entering its 26th day, thousands of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees are failing to show up to work. As a result, flying is “less safe today than it was a month ago,” a top member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said.

    "I would say [flying] is less safe today than it was a month ago, absolutely," Trish Gilbert, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association labor union, said Wednesday on "CNN Newsroom." 

    "We are working with barebones crews," Gilbert said. "We have controllers there doing what they do very, very well — but how long can you expect them to do it without all of the systems behind them to keep the system safe? And the planes in the air?"

    On Tuesday, the FAA released documents revealing that the agency will soon recall more than 3,400 workers who had been furloughed, but who are now needed for the "operational safety of the entire national airspace."

    "We proactively conduct risk assessment, and we have determined that after three weeks, it is appropriate to recall inspectors and engineers," an FAA spokesperson told the Washington Post Tuesday, also noting that the workers will "ensure continuous operational safety of the entire national airspace."

    "Right now, you're putting this incredible strain on this system which is unacceptable and unreasonable," Gilbert added in her Wednesday interview. "This is a horrible game of chicken that we're in the middle of, and we need to get out of it. We need to get out of it today."

    According to Gilbert, air traffic controllers have a "robust" system to report safety concerns. However, those who are responsible for taking action after concerns are reported by air traffic controllers are not working.

    "There's nobody underneath to take any action with the things that are being reported," Gilbert said.

    In addition, fewer TSA workers have been showing up to work this week.

    On Monday, TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello tweeted that there the rate of unscheduled absences among all TSA staff members was 7.7 percent that day, compared to a 3.2 percent rate on the same date a year ago. 

    However, he added that "security standards remain uncompromised at our nation's airports."

    The US government has been partially shut down since December 22, after Congress refused to throw its support behind a funding bill that would satisfy US President Donald Trump's demand for $5.6 billion earmarked for a 2,000-mile, 30-foot-tall, concrete border wall with Mexico.

    On Tuesday, federal judge Richard J. Leon, a George W. Bush appointee on the US District Court for the District of Columbia, refused to issue an order that would have required the federal government to temporarily pay federal workers during the shutdown, the Washington Post reported.

    In the ruling, Leon said that the "judiciary is not, and cannot be, just another source of leverage," according to MSNBC. He also noted that it would be "profoundly irresponsible to issue an order that would result in thousands of employees staying home from work."


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