Nearly half of the entire Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workforce—a total of 26, 878 employees—were allegedly involved in misconduct between fiscal years (FY) 2013 and 2015, putting the security of the flying public at risk, according to a recent report by the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The new report, “Misconduct at TSA Threatens the Security of the Flying public,” addresses growing concerns that TSA, which has roughly 60,000 employees working at about 450 airports, is not taking proper measures to effectively handle cases of misconduct among its employees.
The 29-page document is the result of a 6-month long joint investigation conducted by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency and the Subcommittee on Transportation Security.
Examples of misconduct include solicitation of prostitutes, accepting bribes, human smuggling and the trafficking of narcotics, among others.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted an investigation in 2013 that revealed a 27 percent increase in TSA employee misconduct from FY 2010 to 2012. Although TSA subsequently implemented many of GAO’s recommended measures to curb TSA misconduct, allegations of employee misconduct grew by almost 29 percent from FY 2013 to 2015.
“This report comes at a pivotal time for TSA, which has long been plagued by allegations and instances of employee misconduct from the highest levels of the agency on down to the frontline work force,” said Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Chairman of the Transportation Security Subcommittee.
The investigation also found that while the number of employee misconduct complaints have increased over time, the number of investigations opened and closed by TSA have decreased by 15 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
Specifically, in 2013, 780 investigations were opened out of 13,722 misconduct allegations, representing about six percent of the total misconduct allegations filed. In contrast, in 2015, 663 were opened out of 17,627 misconduct allegations, representing about four percent of total allegations.
Misconduct allegations can be made by TSA airport staff, employees, officials, other federal agency personnel and passengers. They are investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) or by TSA’s Office of Inspection (OOI), depending on the case.
The agency has implemented three levels of punishment: non-disciplinary action, disciplinary action and adverse action. In 2015, about two-thirds of adjudicated cases resulted in non-disciplinary action, such as counseling, guidance, leave restriction, or training.
On the other hand, about one-third resulted in disciplinary action, such as letters of reprimand or suspensions of up to 14 days, and only about 6 percent of allegations resulted in adverse action, which is the most severe and can lead to the removal of an employee.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which governs virtually all of TSA’s activities, does not authorize a specific process TSA should use to remove employees from its workforce.
“OOI refers allegations to DHS OIG for right of first refusal to investigate,” said TSA’s Deputy Administrator Huban Gowadia. “If the OIG does not accept the case for investigation, the matter is referred back to OOI or local management for an administrative inquiry.”
In 2015 alone, the average number of misconduct allegations filed at each airport was 58, with the number ranging by airport from 0 to nearly 1,400. The report also found that the number of employees with more than one complaint filed against them from FY 2013 to 2015 was 11,493.
“Growing misconduct across TSA’s ranks and TSA’s lack of accountability is alarming and unacceptable,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), Chairman of the Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee. “We’re in the highest threat environment since 9/11 and terrorists are intent on attacking civil aviation, as we’ve seen in Brussels and Istanbul.”
Perry continued, “TSA needs significant and lasting reforms to address its employee misconduct crisis.”
The report also revealed that increased concern over the insider threat to aviation security underscores the need for a capable aviation security workforce to detect and stop nefarious activity. An increased rate of misconduct allegations directed towards TSA employees and greater acknowledgement of insider threats to airport security has led some to question the effectiveness of the agency.
Homeland Security Today previously reported thatmajor gaps in airport security represent a significant threat to the homeland. On December 23, 2014, a Delta baggage handler at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was arrested for gun smuggling.
Just weeks later, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspector reportedly bypassed security and flew from Atlanta to New York with a gun in his carry-on baggage. The FAA employee used a Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badge to avoid TSA screening and gain access to a secure area of Hartsfield-Jackson airport.
Then, on January 24, 2015, the FBI arrested another Delta employee at Atlanta airport for boarding a flight to Paris without being screened. Similar to the other two incidents, the worker used his SIDA badge to gain entry to the sterile area of the airport.
“TSA spends billions of dollars every year to ensure every passenger is screened before boarding a commercial flight,” said Rep. Katko at a February 2015 Transportation Security Subcommittee hearing. “What good is all of this screening at the front door if we are not paying enough attention to the backdoor?”
The Committee did acknowledge improvements made to TSA policy by current Administrator Peter Neffenger, the former Vice Admiral in the Coast Guard whowas appointed to the position on June 23, 2015, and has been steadily making improvements to TSA policy.
The committee concluded their report with 17 recommendations for TSA to better manage employee misconduct. These include identifying a senior executive to be responsible for overseeing the misconduct process; making misconduct information readily available to Congress and, as appropriate, to TSA personnel and the public; and identify a senior executive to conduct spot checks or random inspections of disciplinary and non-disciplinary actions taken.
“We are committed to maintaining an environment where employees and leaders can develop, employees have the tools to be successful, and the workforce is motivated by TSA’s mission, vision, and strategic imperatives,” Gowadia said. “To provide the most effective transportation security, the workforce must constantly be training and improving.”