Need change? Ask TSA, it found $531,395.22 in airport bins in 2012

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WASHINGTON — The next time you go through airport security, check those gray or white bins where you unload your pockets. Last year, the Transportation Security Administration collected $531,395.22 in change left behind at checkpoints.

Federal law requires the TSA to report the amount of unclaimed money it keeps every year to Congress. The fiscal 2012 report, obtained by The Washington Post, shows the agency collected about $499,000 in U.S. currency — and another $32,000 in foreign currency — at its checkpoints.

Airports collecting more than $10,000 in change

The top 10 U.S. airports in collections of loose change at TSA checkpoints in 2012:

• Miami International Airport: $39,613.

• McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas: $26,900.

• O’Hare International Airport, Chicago: $22,115.

• Los Angeles International Airport: $21,916.

• John F. Kennedy International, New York: $21,201.

• Dallas-Fort Worth International: $20,190.

• San Francisco International Airport: $19,873.

• Washington Dulles International Airport: $16,536.

• Logan International Airport, Boston: $16,405.

• George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston: $16,081.

— The Washington Post

TSA outposts at hub airports, such as John F. Kennedy International in New York or Dallas-Fort Worth International in Texas, collect cash from smaller regional airports, then forward it to TSA headquarters in Arlington, Va. Passengers entering Miami International Airport left the largest amount of change at security last year, $39,613, while people leaving Las Vegas — perhaps flush with slot machine winnings — forgot $26,900.21.

In total, TSA agents collected more than $10,000 in pocket change at each of 14 major airports across the country, in such cities as San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Atlanta.

The half-million dollars the TSA collected in fiscal 2012 was the most ever reported to Congress. From 2008 to 2010, the agency reported finding around $400,000 left at security checkpoints each year. In 2011, passengers left $383,000 in those little gray bins.

Current law requires the TSA to spend that money on providing civil aviation security — essentially, to supplement their overall mission. But so far, the TSA has only spent about $6,500 of the money it collected last year. The TSA report to Congress says the agency spent that money on the translation of some airport checkpoint signage into different foreign languages and on miscellaneous administrative overhead.

The slow rate of spending has some in Congress pushing for a change.

On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 1095, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., which would require the TSA to fork that cash over to nonprofit organizations that provide travel-related assistance to military personnel or their families.

But, in a twist, requiring the TSA to hand over the unclaimed coins could actually cost the agency more money than it collects.