The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been struggling to improve management and efficiency amid a number of questions about its success at keeping America’s transportation system safe.
A recent audit report by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (IG) raised questions about how well TSA’s Office of Inspection (OOI) is fulfilling its role of testing TSA security for vulnerabilities. OOI’s mission is ensure TSA conducts internal investigations and covert testing to check for vulnerabilities in the security system.
In September 2013, the IG published a number of recommendations to improve the ability of the OOI to evaluate airline security, such as developing performance measures and an annual work plan. Since then, TSA has asserted they resolved two of the recommendations, but the IG determined they have not.
The initial IG audit report, Transportation Security Administration Office of Inspection’s Efforts to Enhance Transportation Security, contained 11 recommendations for OOI.
DHS’s IG stated OOI did not meet its obligation of internal testing and reviews to make sure TSA is operating as efficiently as it could be. Specifically, the report castigated OOI for failure to ensure staff members were properly trained or that investigations met certain acceptable standards.
“As a result of the issues that we identified with OOI’s cost-effectiveness and quality controls over its work products, TSA was not as effective as it could have been, and management may not be able to rely on OOI’s work,” the IG’s initial report stated. “Additionally, OOImay not have fully accomplished its mission to identify and address all transportation security vulnerabilities.”
Most importantly, the IG’s audit raised concerns that OOI did not utilize funds effectively. The audit report stated OOI hired a number of employees as “criminal investigators,” a classification that makes them law enforcement officials. Criminal investigators are paid significantly more than other employees, and as law enforcement officials they receive enhanced benefits, including Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP).
The Office of Personnel Management has regulations that state law enforcement officers should spend around 50 percent of their time investigating and apprehending criminals. However, most of the criminal investigators on staff at OOI were not spending at least 50 percent of their time conducting criminal investigations. The IG stated the same amount of work could have been done for less money.
“If TSA does not make any changes to the number of criminal investigator positions, we estimate that it will cost as much as $17.5 million over 5 years on premium LEAP,” the IG’s audit report stated. “OOI could also realize further savings in training, travel, supplies and other special employment benefits, including statutory early retirement, if its personnel classified as criminal investigators were reclassified to noncriminal investigator positions.”
The original report provided 11 recommendations:
- Ensure that criminal investigators meet the requirements to be classified that way;
- Finalize the OOI’s directive on how employees qualify to receive LEAP;
- Conduct a workforce analysis and position classification review of the OOI;
- Use the analysis to reclassify employees as necessary;
- Develop an annual work plan as to what and how many internal investigations will be carried out that year;
- Develop outcome-based performance measures in order to evaluate efficiency;
- Periodically assess the results of these performance measures to see if OOI is meeting its goals;
- Require employees to document hours to make sure that OOI work projects meet professional standards;
- Create a quality assurance program;
- Have an external peer review at least once every three years; and
- Implement a policy to follow up on these recommendations.
Soon after the IG’s audit, DHS determined some of the recommendations, such as the one requesting OOI create a directive on how employees become available for LEAP, were resolved and closed. However, recommendations three and four remained open.
In January, TSA submitted documentation indicating they had conducted a workforce analysis and position classification review of OOI. However, after reviewing the documentation, the IG issued a management advisory notice on July 6 saying TSA had not met the intent of the recommendations. Therefore, the recommendations remain unresolved issues.
Specifically, TSA awarded PotomacWave, a consulting firm, a $330,000 contract to conduct a workforce analysis. PotomacWave, after reviewing information provided by TSA, concluded OOI does not have enough criminal investigators to carry out its workload.
The IG expressed a number of concerns that prevented them from closing out the recommendations. Despite specifically stating they wanted a position classification review of OOI conducted, TSA’s contract with PotomacWave did not require them to perform one.
The IG also stated PotomacWave did not realize some of the work performed by criminal investigators could also be carried out by other OOI employees. PotomacWave used TSA-provided data to arrive at its conclusions, and did not validate any of the data. Moreover, PotomacWave also based its analysis on “questionable assumptions about OOI’s future workload.”
For all of these reasons, the Inspector General determined the recommendations are still open and there is still a lot OOI will have to do to rectify them.
“Thus, these two recommendations will remain open until TSA provides evidence that an independent workforce analysis addressing the issues identified in this management advisory and a position classification review of OOI have been conducted,” the management advisory stated.
“Upon completion of these, TSA will need to provide evidence that criminal investigators not meeting or not expected to meet the Federal workload requirement for criminal investigators have been reclassified and ensure that secondary law enforcement positions are properly classified," the advisory added.
In response, TSA spokesman Mike England told Homeland Security Today, "TSA and the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General are equally committed to ensuring the TSA Office of Inspection accomplishes its work with maximum efficiency."
England said, "TSA is working with the OIG to satisfactorily close the two remaining items from the OIG audit, and is conducting a full position classification review of the OOI personnel structure."
"We will work cooperatively with OIG staff to ensure the scope of the position classification review is thorough and meets the intent of the OIG recommendation," England stated, adding that TSA’s "OOI serves a critical role in ensuring the integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of the TSA workforce, its operations and programs. TSA will always take the necessary steps to ensure the security of the traveling public and to responsibly manage tax payer dollars.”
According to the IG’s initial audit, OOI also had failed to plan out its yearly work beforehand. OOI investigations also lacked performance measures to check that the work done actually fulfilled its intended purpose.
And without an annual plan or performance measures, OOI could not establish an annual budget, the IG determined. It also didn’t have any quality controls on its work, causing problems with the accuracy of data entered into the management information system.
The IG believes that resolving all of its recommendations could help TSA improve efforts to achieve its mission of keeping airports safe.
“By analyzing and realigning the OOI workforce to better suit its mission, TSA could realize cost savings, improve transparency and accountability and enhance its efforts to protect the nation’s transportation systems,” the report stated.