It just can't be a good thing when a member of the U.S. Congress publicly accuses you of stealing, taking bribes and drinking on the job. But that's pretty much how the morning of August 1st started for Transportation Security Agency (TSA) airport security screeners.
The member of Congress is Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's Transportation Security Subcommittee, and the event was his subcommittee's public hearing ominously titled "Breach of Trust: Addressing Misconduct Among TSA Screeners."
It didn't take Rep. Rogers long to set the tone for the day, saying in his opening statement, "Stealing from checked luggage; accepting bribes from drug smugglers; sleeping or drinking while on duty -- this kind of criminal behavior and negligence has contributed significantly to TSA's shattered public image."
Rep. Rogers suggested that the size of the TSA workforce had resulted in a dangerous lack of oversight, increasing the likelihood of misconduct. "I think the number of employees could be reduced dramatically, with significantly more attention paid to qualifications and training," he said.
"It is true that other Federal departments struggle with criminal cases against their employees," stated Rogers, "but TSA, unlike most agencies, interacts with the general public in a very frequent and personal manner."
Noting that only a small percentage of TSA's more than 45,000 employees were "bad apples," Rogers said he had called the hearing in order to give the TSA a chance to publicly describe its efforts to identify and remove misbehaving employees.
Trying, but not really succeeding in doing that, was TSA deputy administrator John Halinski, who attended the hearing because head TSA administrator John Pistole was busy representing the government - and taxpayers - in labor negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees, the union trying to win a new, improved contract for TSA employees. More on that later.
After instead testifying at length about the importance of TSA's airport security mission, how they do it and how good they are at it, Mr. Halinski agreed that, "It is not enough to train and engage our workforce -- we must hold everyone accountable in the success of our mission."
Halinski cited the TSA's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), established by administrator Pistole to "ensure that allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated and that discipline is appropriate and fair across the agency. OPR ensures that our workforce is treated fairly by removing people that do not meet the high standards of integrity that our mission requires."
"All aspects of our workforce regimen -- hiring, promotion, retention, training, proactive compliance inspections, investigations and adjudications - are driven by adherence to the highest standards," stated in his testimony.
To help ensure that "adherence to the highest standards," Halinski described the TSA's new Office of Training and Workforce Engagement (OTWE), intended to centralize technical and leadership training throughout the agency. "Maintaining and enhancing the capabilities of our employees, and particularly our TSOs (security screeners), is a priority," he said.
TSA's New Contract: On August 2, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), announced that it had agreed with the government on a new collective bargaining agreement, which AFGE's TSA council president Kim Kraynak-Lambert said would give TSA employees "new rights and new working conditions, and a chance to form a true labor-management partnership."
"What this contract will do is provide for increased uniformity on fair treatment and the other issues important to employees across the nation's airports," said AFGE president John Gage in a press release. "Improvements in working conditions will also benefit both TSA and the officers by fostering a family-friendly workplace where the employees have greater job satisfaction and feel supported in performing their important security work."
TSA employees will be voting on ratification of the new contract over the next few months.
Also See: TSA Defends Boarding Gate Drink Checks