ICYMI: Lawmakers criticize TSA misconduct penalties

August 5, 2013
Press Release

(Photo: Cindy Hosea AP)

Federal lawmakers criticized the Transportation Security Administration on Wednesday for uneven disciplinary action in misconduct cases that a government watchdog revealed had grown 26% over three years.

"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 Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. "Stop with the napping, the stealing, the tardiness and the disrespect."

TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski told a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing that the agency has two offices for investigating and adjudicating cases, and is working to better monitor the results.

"I've given you my word – if they're stealing, doing drugs or breaching the security system intentionally and I can prove it, they're out," Halinski said.

The Government Accountability Office reported that the number of misconduct cases at TSA rose to 3,408 last year from 2,691 in 2010. Nearly one-third (32%) of the cases involved attendance and 20% dealt with violating security standards, such as allowing travelers and luggage to bypass screening.

Nearly half the cases (47%) resulted in letters of reprimand, 31% resulted in suspensions and 17% resulted in the worker leaving the agency, according to GAO.

"It's disgraceful that people don't show up for work, there's great cost to the taxpayers and great disruption," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.

The report's time frame coincided with the tenure of TSA Administrator John Pistole, a former deputy director of the FBI who tightened enforcement of workplace rules.

Several clusters of workers were fired a year ago in separate incidents at Newark airport for sleeping on the job, at Philadelphia airport for cheating on tests and at Fort Myers, Fla, airport for failing to conduct random screenings.

Duncan, R-S.C. said out of 56 cases of theft in the report, 31 cases resulted in termination, 13 in suspension, 11 in letters of reprimand and one resignation. Duncan called the letters a "slap on the wrist."

"Stealing is stealing," Duncan said. "I would hope that a federal employee that engages in theft of trusting travelers would be disciplined more than with just a letter."

Halinski said the difficulties come when a theft isn't proven. Workers can appeal their discipline, and more than 800 have, with 15% of the cases overturned, he said.

"We have to give our people an appeal process," Halinski said.

But Halinski said TSA conducted 640 covert tests since December at 76 airports, but only three workers were caught stealing. The agency has a table of punishments for misconduct and publishes a monthly newsletter of disciplinary actionseach month to describe how cases were resolved.

"Many employees had the opportunity to do the wrong thing, but only three did," Halinski said.