Partisan Divide Greets New Report on Airport Screener Misconduct

Officials from the government organization everyone loves to hate say a few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch. The GOP is not so sure.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Airport Security TSA
Paul Beaty / AP

An Airline passenger is patted down by a TSA agent at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Monday, Nov. 22, 2010.

Federal airport security screeners were investigated for misconduct 9,622 times from 2010 to 2012, after an array incidents, from screeners falling asleep on the job to letting relatives go around screening lines to inappropriately touching airplane passengers. Depending on whom you ask on Capitol Hill, this is either an alarming crisis or an expected footnote for a huge workforce with an enormous task.

“These findings are especially hard to stomach since so many Americans today are sick of being groped, interrogated, and treated like criminals when passing through checkpoints,” said Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, at a hearing on the Transportation Security Agency July 31. “If ‘Integrity’ is truly a core value, then, TSA, prove it.”

“TSA employee misconduct is on the rise — and this is intolerable,” Democratic Rep. Ron Barber said in a statement to TIME. “TSA’s first and foremost responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of travelers in a professional manner — and it is simply unacceptable to allow a single bag or a single person go unscreened.”

Some Democrats at the hearing, however, sided with the TSA officers, who many said were not to be judged by the actions of a few “bad apples.”

Bennie Thompson, a ranking Democratic member of the committee, from Mississippi said, “The vast majority of TSOs are hardworking, dedicated, diligent federal employees.”

The TSA employs about 56,000 security personnel who work at 450 airports across the country. In a July 30 report, the Government Accountability Office found there has been a 26 percent increase in cases of misconduct over the past three years.

According to the report, the majority of the cases fell under two categories of misconduct,  “attendance and leave” and “screening and security.” Unexcused absences, tardiness, and failure to follow leave procedure accounted for 32 %, or 3,117, of the total misconduct cases. Failure to follow screening procedure, bypassing screening, and sleeping on duty made up 20 percent, or 1,936 total cases according to the report.

In one instance in the report, an officer was seen neglecting to stop the conveyor belt after every piece of luggage to review the x-ray images of what’s inside; in another an officer left his or her security checkpoint to assist a family member with a bag, a bag the officer later walked through the security checkpoint without screening and handed to the relative. The bag was found to have contained prohibited items, though the items are not specified in the GAO report.

In a statement, David Cox, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents the TSA, said the report has misrepresented the conduct of TSA employees. “TSA critics on Capitol Hill seize every opportunity to give the agency and its dedicated workforce a black eye, even when the facts to not support their arm-waving displays of false outrage,” Cox said in a statement. “They want to drag us back, as a nation, to the pre-9/11 practice of using poorly trained, minimum wage rent-a-cops to protect the flying public from terrorists.”

The agency has also tried to defend itself, blaming a handful of bad apples. “Every time we have one knucklehead that decides he’s going to do something bad it tarnishes the image of our organization, TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski said at the hearing. “I have my people on the line 365 days of the year and they know if they fail someone can die.”

Nearly half of the reported cases of misconduct resulted in letters of reprimand that describe the conduct and why it is subject to disciplinary action. Thirty-one percent resulted in definite suspension, and 17% led to termination, according to the GAO. The rest were subject to a multitude of outcomes, including indefinite suspension.

“I think this report shows something very positive,” says Rick Mathews, the director of the National Center for Security and Preparedness at the University at Albany. “It shows that the TSA is looking for these things and when people are doing wrong they’re being punished.”

“The frequency of these actions is so low that it more than likely dissuades bad people from even trying to breach security,” he added.

10 comments
LilyStrom
LilyStrom

This is the one issue that I have to side with Republicans on.   The TSA makes me so angry, I will not hesitate to change my voter registration if Democrats do not realize that the people they are defending are pure evil.

BillFisher
BillFisher like.author.displayName 1 Like

There have been three TSA screeners arrested for crimes in a month. Last week another TSA screener, Larry Kobielnik, was arrested for sexual assault and attempted rape in Florida, a month after Massachusetts TSA employee Miguel Quinones was arrested for having child pornography on a laptop in his locker and Honolulu screener Tracy Leanne Owens was caught stealing cash from a passengers bag.

This is typical of the hiring standards of TSA which continues to employ a known pedophile, Thomas Harkin, working at Philadelphia airport more a year after he was exposed.

Millions of innocent people, handicapped children and adults have been traumatized at airports from being harassed, groped and humiliated for the “crime” of buying an airline ticket.

In the last 30 months over 115 TSA workers have been arrested including 19 arrested for sex crimes, including 16 involving children, 35 for theft, 12 for smuggling contraband through security and one for murder. Over 500 TSA workers have been arrested on the job since 2005 according to a recent GAO report obtained by Rep. Marsha Blackburn. And these are just the ones who have been caught and exposed in the media.

TSA has done more damage to our freedoms than Al Qaeda could have ever hoped to do and TSA workers and John Pistole have been their accomplices.  Airport security should be performed by local police, not the criminal and misfits that TSA hires.

paulejb
paulejb like.author.displayName 1 Like

The TSA is the agency that hires people who could not qualify as mall cops.

GetReal123
GetReal123

Airports are the ultimate Emotional IQ test. Grin and bear it or charter your flight.

GetReal123
GetReal123

Remain calm and polite and we should all treat each other in the same manner we would like to be treated.

Openminded1
Openminded1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@GetReal123 Nice sentiment if only it were true to life and the TSA,s way of thinking.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

I would remind everyone that the Koch brothers are funding the campaign against TSA, because they want back the 7-billion-dollar-per-year airport security business which Bush II took from them. They have successfully enlisted the conspiracy crowd in their campaign by persuading them that the airport scanners will be mounted in trucks and driven around town to Take Their Guns.

So, it is not necessarily so that a large number of complaints means that TSA operates poorly. A large number of complaints can also indicate (like with, say, Family Guy or Game of Thrones) indicate that they've been targeted by nutters.

Openminded1
Openminded1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@WilfTarquin and how long have you been working for the TSA? Do you guys really like the close touchy body pat downs you give to little old ladies from pasadena?