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AGFE Union Calls for Support for TSA Workforce Rights Act

The bill has been passed by the House. However, the Senate version of the bill does not include the text of the Rights of the TSA Workforce Act in its latest public draft.

In a letter to lawmakers debating the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) has called for support for the section of the bill which pertains to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workforce.

“Please support H.R. 7970, Title LVIII, Subtitle B, “Rights of the TSA Workforce Act of 2022”, that includes sections 5931 that would enhance the security operations of the Transportation Security Administration and stability of the transportation security workforce by applying the personnel system under title 5, United States Code, to employees of the TSA,” the letter states.

Notoriously, TSA has been affected by low employee morale and retention. Pay is also reported to be lower than that of other federal agencies. The bill has been passed by the House. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said at the time that he was pleased that the House approved the amendment containing the Rights for TSA Workforce Act. “Under TSA’s current personnel system, the agency suffers from high attrition and low morale. Getting the TSA workforce under the personnel system under which most other Federal employees operate has been a priority for many of us for decades,” Thompson said. However, the Senate version of the bill does not include the text of the Rights of the TSA Workforce Act in its latest public draft.

“The TSA workforce is among our first lines of Homeland defense, and recruitment and retention of a quality workforce is greatly enhanced by affording this workforce the same title 5 personnel rights as the federal government and most of the workforce in the Department of Defense,” AFGE continues in its letter. “This is a bipartisan bill that reflects TSA input. These provisions honor Transportation Security Officers’ dedication to America’s transportation security by: 

  • Statutorily repealing the TSA Administrator’s authority to maintain a separate and unequal personnel system that applies only to the TSO workforce. 
  • Ending the current TSA personnel directives that have allowed TSA to be the prosecutor, judge, and jury, with no neutral third-party review, in workforce disciplinary matters and providing statutory access to the Merit Systems Protection Board. 
  • Requiring TSA to follow the labor-management statutes that provide workplace rights and protections to most federal employees under title 5 of the U.S. Code; and 
  • Putting TSOs on the General Schedule pay scale with regular step increases, under which most federal employees’ pay is determined. While it takes 18 years to advance to the top step in the GS system, it takes 30 years to advance through a TSA pay band.”

AFGE’s letter also supports the review of the Cyber Excepted Service to address skills gaps and asks for clarification of the Department of Defense Cyber and Digital Service Academy portion of the bill.

In addition, the labor union requests that lawmakers strike out strike S. 4542, Section 1112, “Civilian Cyber Security Reserve Pilot,” and H.R. 7970, Section 1112, “National Digital Reserve Corps” noting in its letter that there are “primary defects with both proposals” AFGE’s letter states for example that “the duration of the assignments, particularly if they are predominantly less than a couple of months, are insufficient to provide any meaningful benefit to the government and are of more benefit to the so-called “reservist” and their private sector employer who are gaining access to governmental programs by their participation.”

Among other sections of the NDAA it addresses in its letter, AFGE asks for “clarification on H.R. 7970 Section 831, “Key experiences and enhanced pay authority for acquisition workforce excellence,” to ensure that participation in “public-private talent exchanges” remains voluntary and does not become another artificially created impediment to promotion or hiring otherwise qualified persons to fill acquisition positions.” The letter continues that the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has pointed out how education and training credentials and certification requirements had become major barriers to hiring qualified AI candidates, resulting in severe skills gaps within the Department. “The problem is no different in the case of the acquisition workforce where each NDAA adds new requirements, with the unintended effect of further limiting and impeding the Department’s ability to hire highly qualified candidates from diverse sources,” AFGE writes. “The conference bill should clarify that participation in public-private talent exchanges remains voluntary, and that despite any numerical goals, participation is not a requirement for being hired or promoted.”

Read the letter in full at AFGE

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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