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Robert Longley

TSA Could Improve Complaint Process, GAO Reports

By November 27, 2012

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Believe it or not, the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) really does have a process for dealing with air passenger complaints. It's just not a very good process, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO found that despite having five "mechanisms" for collecting the thousands of screening complaints it gets, the TSA has no agencywide policy or process for dealing with them.

The GAO report, TSA Could Improve Complaint Processes, shows that from October 2009 through June 2012, TSA received more than 39,000 screening complaints through its TSA Contact Center (TCC). However, the TSA has no clear process for analyzing the nature or seriousness of the complaints, partly because the airport-based TSA staffs have wide discretion in implementing the complaint process.

Theoretically, the TSA's Contact Center collects and deals with general complaints or concerns, complaints related to violations of civil rights and complaints related to passengers with disabilities or medical conditions.

Within the TSA Contact Center, the "Multicultural Branch" reviews written reports of violations of passengers' civil rights and liberties, including race, color, ethnicity, gender, genetic information, national origin, religion, sexual orientation and parental status. The "Disability Branch" reviews screening complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability or medical condition.

While TSA has developed standard signs, stickers, and customer comment cards that the airports can use to inform passengers how to submit feedback, the GAO found they were inconsistently used at the airports.

For example, at four of the six airports contacted by the GAO, comment cards are used to collect passenger complaints, but the TSA has no policy requiring that the complaint cards be tracked or even reported to the central TSA Contact Center.

Just for the record, GAO found that the TSA's Contact Center received a total of 39,616 passenger screening complaints submitted by e-mail and telephone from October 2009 through June 2012. Of those 39,616 complaints, 17,153 (43%) were about pat-down search procedures. TSA responded in October 2012 by claiming to have expanded its list of "rights" afforded to passengers required to undergo pat-down searches.

What the GAO Recommended: While the TSA has lots of procedures it validly needs to keep secret, its passenger complaint process should not be one of them, according to the GAO. "TSA's complaint resolution processes do not fully conform to standards of independence to ensure that these processes are fair, impartial, and credible," stated the report.

GAO recommended that the TSA "establish a consistent policy to guide agencywide efforts for receiving, tracking, and reporting air passenger screening complaints."

Note: The GAO report, TSA Could Improve Complaint Processes, contains a detailed explanation of the TSA screening complaint process, along with informative graphs and charts detailing the number and nature of passenger complaints submitted.

Also See:
TSA Defends Boarding Gate Drink Checks
TSA Conducting Random Behavioral Screening

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