Monday, August 5, 2013

Sleeping on the Job at the TSA

After September 2001, we were led to believe that, as airline passengers, our last line of defence against a repeat performance were the agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).  The TSA was created to strengthen the obvious weaknesses in America's national transportation infrastructure and, in particular, has the duty of screening all commercial airline passengers and baggage.

Here is a flow chart showing the senior leadership of the TSA:

The Administrator, John Pistole, was nominated by President Obama and was confirmed (unanimously, I might add) and took the helm of the TSA in June 2010.  For the previous six years, Mr. Pistole, a short-term practising lawyer, was the Deputy Director of the FBI and has played an important role in formulating anti-terrorist policies during both the Bush II and Obama Administrations.  Mr. Pistole is best known by Main Street America for implementing and defending the "grandma and children pat down policy" in 2010 as shown on this video:

That's a pretty thorough pat down, isn't it?  I guess you can never be too sure where something threatening could be hidden!  Next up, the dreaded cavity search. 

How much does this fun cost American tax payers?   Budget requests for the TSA fall under the Department of Homeland Security.  For fiscal year 2014, the TSA has requested $4.8 billion, a drop of $388 million or 8.1 percent from the previous year.  The request will cap full-time passenger screeners to 46,000 and also reduces uniform costs by $18 million and cuts management programs by 5 percent.  Right now, the TSA has nearly 50,000 security officers, inspectors, air marshals and managers.

Let's look at how much TSA employees get paid noting that the pay level obviously depends on the degree of job responsibility:

These rates do not include locality pay which can add up to 35 percent to the base rate.  In addition, TSA employees get coverage for health insurance, personal leave days, ten whole days of paid vacation annually, transportation subsidies and a uniform allowance.

Since it is the passenger screeners that are the front line TSA employees that we interact with the most, let's look at how much they make from this job posting:

The candidates for this job must:

1.) Pass a background check including credit and criminal.
2.) Pass a drug screening test.
3.) Have no default on $7500 or more in delinquent debt.
4.) Have no delinquent federal or state taxes or child support payments.
5.) Be able to stand for between one and four hours without a break.
6.) Be able to walk up to two miles during a shift.
7.) Be able to repeatedly lift or carry up to 70 pounds.

All that is required is a high school diploma or GED or at least one year of full-time work experience in the security industry or as an X-ray technician.

Now that we have that background information, let's look at a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, evaluating the performance of America's last line of defence against a repeat performance of September 2001.

Between fiscal 2010 and 2012, the TSA investigated 9622 cases of employee misconduct.  These cases were brought to the TSA's attention by airline passengers, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security and Members of Congress.  Here is a chart showing the categories of the offences:

Sadly, the number of misconduct cases rose from 2691 in 2010 to 3408 in 2012 (an increase of 26.6 percent) at the same time as the TSA's workforce grew by 3200 employees.

Nearly one-third of the offences are related to absence from the job including unexcused absences and absence without leave.  Next up we have 20 percent of offences that are related to failing to do the job properly including the "sleeping while on the job" problem.  In third place, we find 16 percent of offences falling under the insubordination and disrespectful conduct category.  In fourth place (and this is the one that should concern most of us), 10 percent of offences were related to inappropriate or sexual misconduct, fighting, abusive language or abusive use of authority.  This should not surprise anyone.  Apparently, putting a uniform on some people hones their sense of authority despite the fact that they are barely making a living wage (or perhaps because of it!).

So what happened to the 9622 TSA employees?  Here is a pie chart showing that nearly half of them received a slap with a wet noodle:

If we go back to the "sleeping while engaging in security duties" issue, the prescribed penalty ranges from a suspension of 14 days to removal from the job.  This indicates the seriousness of this offense.  So, what did the TSA do to employees caught napping on the taxpayers' nickel?  The GAO found that 50 percent of the cases resulted in penalties ranging from the dreaded letter of demand to a suspension of one to three days (in other words, a long weekend).

While the appearance of a thorough security screening has pacified the travelling American public, if one scratches just a bit below the surface, it appears that the TSA is dysfunctional even in the way that it handles its own, offending employees.  Until the TSA takes the job of conducting reviews of cases of misconduct consistently, the security situation at U.S. airports is unlikely to improve.


  1. Luckily the TSa aren't our last line of defense. We also have an alert general population that travel, and they know now to intervene if someone threatens violence.

    I haven't been horrified by the job being done by these workers, and I don't want to join with the libertarians who regularly deride their work and the personnel. Often menial and repetitive is still important, and this is one example where that is true.

    1. Could you define the "important" part of us a little further, we understand "Its for the children " but I am curious as to what you consider to be so important that the TSA does on a daily basis.

    2. "We also have an alert general population that travel" This is by far the most important thing also now that the cockpits are secured as long as bags(xrayed) and people walk through medal detectors, we will be fine. There is no need to pat down old people and kids that is just stupid. The best thing airlines could do is to also always have a male steward with some hand to hand training be on each flight. The TSA should be slowly done away with.

  2. Perhaps this is yet another example of getting what you pay for. If the front line people were offered a reasonable living wage and the prospect of advancement, they'd be more inclined to perform. I've seen what other countries do during the screening process and there are much better ways to end up with a more secure result.