Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas has announced new efforts to support the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening officer workforce, including expanding collective bargaining at the national level and ensuring that TSA’s standards and processes adhere to the principles applied by the Merit Systems Protection Board. Secretary Mayorkas also expressed the Department’s commitment to improving pay for the TSA workforce.
TSA has often struggled with job retention. During fiscal years 2016–17, TSA hired more than 19,300 Transportation Security Officers, or TSOs, yet lost more than 15,500 during this same period. And in March 2019, a report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) highlighted issues with TSO retention, hiring, and training. In particular, OIG cited a lack of focus on career growth as a primary cause of TSO’s leaving the agency, in addition to low workforce morale, staffing and scheduling challenges, management issues, and TSA pay scale. It is worth noting that this 2019 report made numerous recommendations with which TSA agreed and has completed work to address the concerns.
Since the OIG report, TSA developed a number of workforce initiatives, such as a two-tier performance system, the model officer recognition program, retention incentives, and TSO career progression.
Speaking on June 3, 2021, Mayorkas said “TSA employees are outstanding public servants who work on the frontlines, including throughout the pandemic, to keep the traveling American public safe. They deserve the empowerment of collective bargaining and a compensation structure that recognizes and rewards them for their contributions to our safety and security.”
Secretary Mayorkas has ordered administrative actions to build upon the meaningful improvements made by TSA leadership to support the TSO workforce. TSA will expand the collective bargaining rights of TSOs consistent with the policy expressed in President Biden’s Executive Order 14025, Worker Organizing and Empowerment. The expanded scope of bargaining will be similar to bargaining that occurs at other federal agencies while preserving TSA’s ability to meet its critical security mission. After implementing these changes, TSA will work with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents TSA’s non-supervisory TSO workforce, to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.
The June 3 announcement also recognized that appropriately compensating TSA employees, including TSOs and Coordination Center Officers, is required to improve the morale and retention of these essential employees. Secretary Mayorkas directed TSA to prepare a plan that is consistent with providing fair compensation.
Today’s announcement is an important first step to more closely align the TSA screening personnel system to that of other Federal agencies. TSA will also continue to evaluate personnel policies, including appeal procedures, for potential changes to better support the workforce.
In February, TSA launched recruitment efforts nationwide to fill over 6,000 TSO positions by summer 2021. The recruitment efforts continue and in early May, Darby LaJoye, the senior official performing the duties of the administrator at TSA said that TSA has hired approximately 2,500 new officers and anticipated hiring another 1,600 by the end of June.
Lajoye said TSA will continue to hire through the summer and into early fall so that it is well-positioned for the next holiday season and also for next summer as well.