The TSA is a multibillion dollar agency with nearly zero redeemable qualities. It can only act in hindsight, does almost nothing to make traveling safer, and seemingly devotes most of its screening efforts to toddlers, cancer patients, and ensuring carry-on liquids do not exceed three ounces.
What it lacks in competency, it makes up in misconduct. Lines at security checkpoints have slowed to a crawl. Making it through the tedious, invasive process sometimes means inadvertently "donating" expensive electronics to sticky-fingered agents. The TSA's morale is generally on par with Congress' approval rates. And, when it's all said and done, the people hired to protect travelers just plain suck at their job.
Despite the Transportation Security Administration's ten-point action plan to reduce long lines at airports across the country, lengthy queues remain. Now, the TSA's summer may be getting even worse: According to a recent report from the House Homeland Security Commission entitled "Misconduct at TSA Threatens the Security of the Flying Public", nearly half of the TSA’s 60,000 employees have been cited for misconduct in recent years.
As Katherine LaGrave of the Conde Nast Traveler points out, the problem is only getting worse. Complaints are up 28% over the last three years, with larger airports averaging a complaint a week. Long lines may be causing a spike in the complaints, but the misconduct detailed in the report has very little to do directly with this issue.
Attendance issues are part of the problem, but the offenses listed in the report range from missing work to smuggling drugs/humans to "engaging in child pornography activities." Although processes are in place to handle disciplinary issues, they are both bureaucratic and inconsistently applied. Worse, the investigation found that the agency has no specific process in place to fire problem employees.
But the obvious takeaway from this report is that the TSA is not improving. It's getting worse, despite the institution of an action plan and added layers of direct oversight. The report also cautions that this will never improve, at least not if the TSA continues to ignore internal issues. It notes that misconduct allegations have increased by nearly 29% in the last three years but opened investigations not increased, but have actually gone down 15% over the same period.
Then there's this:
Almost half of TSA’s entire workforce allegedly committed misconduct, and almost half of that number allegedly did so repeatedly. According to TSA data, from fiscal year 2013 through 2015, almost 27,000 unique employees had an allegation of misconduct filed against them. Moreover, about half of those employees had two or more misconduct allegations filed against them, with some employees having 14, 16, and 18 allegations. In fact, 1,270 employees had five or more misconduct allegations filed against them.
The TSA knows -- or should know -- who its problem employees are. It just isn't willing to do anything about them.
The TSA's toxic culture didn't form in a vacuum. It started at the top, thanks to legislators granting the agency far too much power and demanding far too little in terms of accountability in return. The TSA has crafted policies containing several exploitable loopholes for upper management to abuse. TSA officials are unwilling to fix internal issues, and have provided nothing to Congressional oversight when questioned about the agency's disciplinary problems.
On March 10, 2016, Chairman McCaul requested data from TSA on the number of directed reassignments that have taken place to understand the depth of this type of misconduct and to give TSA an opportunity to present information in its defense. However, almost four months later, TSA has only provided about half of the requested data stating that it has required manual review of case files. If this information is not readily available to provide to Congress, it is likely not readily available to TSA decision-makers, and indicates that TSA is not providing oversight of these types of reassignments.
The agency refuses to track misconduct on its own, suggesting it would rather have a bunch of warm bodies in place than anyone truly interested in the important job they've been entrusted with. Everything rolls downhill from there. If the agency is unwilling to do even the minimum to curb misconduct, it should come as no surprise that it's become host to a large number of misbehaving employees. Fifteen years of mismanagement has turned a response to a horrific attack into a playground for people who like lots of power and zero accountability.
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