It’s a dismal portraitof the TSA workforce: officers stealing from passengers, screeners sleeping on the job, and other misconduct that raises concerns about the very job they’re supposed to be doing – keeping air travel safe. NOTE: See update below for the TSA’s response.
Employee Misconduct Cases Rise 26%
Those are among the findings of a new Government Accountability Office study with the rather benign title, TSA Could Strengthen Monitoring of Allegations of Employee Misconduct. It is by no means a condemnation of the vast majority of the 56,000 men and women in the TSA’s workforce but it does point out that the agency investigated about 9,600 cases of employee misconduct in a three-year period (2010 to 2012) when the number of misconduct cases increased by 26%.
Theft, Scary Pat-downs, Failure to Screen
During this three-year period, FareCompare reported some of the worst incidents:
- At Newark’s airport, TSA officers were accused of stealing cash and other items from passenger luggage, including one man seen on video taking $5,000 from a woman’s purse (some of these individuals have since been sentenced to prison)
- At Honolulu’s airport, 28 TSA employees were fired (while several others were allowed to retire or were suspended) for failing to screen baggage
Other incidents in this period include the harrowing pat-down of a six-year-old (which prompted then-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to say, “I wouldn’t want that happening to my granddaughter” and also prompted new, less stringent security rules for children). Plus there have been numerous reports of overzealous officers including those cited by the elderly woman who claimed she was “strip searched.” More recently, a 15-year-old girl reported that a screener “hassled” her for her choice of clothing.
Never-ending Debate over Airport Security
FareCompare asked the TSA to comment and we will update with any response.
UPDATE: On Wed. (July 31), TSA deputy administrator John Halinski testified at a government hearing and was quoted as saying, “The majority of our employees perform well, but if not, we take prompt and appropriate action.” He added that sleeping employees and TSA thieves make up less than 1% of the workforce but “even that is too many.” According to GovernmentExecutive.com, he went on to assure lawmakers that “If we can prove drugs, or stealing or breaching national security, I give you my word they are immediately out the door,” but noted that “workers are innocent until proven guilty. If we can’t prove [a crime], then there’s a process of adjudication, a recommendation for punishment and an appeal process.”
Meantime, it may be useful to remember that there are plenty of unruly passengers on planes these days. As one flight attendant quoted by the Seattle Times said, “[That's] why we were so outraged with the thought of knives coming back onboard.” She was referring to the TSA’s decision to allow some small knives on planes, a decision that was ultimately reversed in the wake of intense backlash. So what’s ahead for the agency that’s been called more hated than the IRS?
According to the GAO report, “the TSA is taking actions” via new procedures in response to all this but it remains to be seen if this will in anyway mollify the agency’s many detractors. Earlier this week, FareCompare took note of a New York Times column which complained about “notoriously burdensome” airport security procedures, and stated “the chance of dying in an airplane is vanishingly small. The chance of being killed by a terrorist in an airplane is smaller still.” And yet, it has happened.