Air travelers already worry about the full-body pat-downs and liquid toiletry purges expected at airport security lines, but a new report suggests that passengers may also have to be concerned about inconsistencies by the people who are supposed to protect them from harm.
Complaints of misconduct against TSA workers increased 26% over the past three years, according a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. In total, the GAO found about “9,600 cases of employee misconduct from fiscal years 2010 through 2012.”
The watchdog group found that 32% of misconduct reports involved attendance, while 20% involved screening and security standards. Of all the misconduct reported, 47% of the reports resulted in letters of reprimand, 31% resulted in suspensions, and 17% resulted in the worker leaving the agency.
The Transportation Security Administration, founded after the 9/11 attacks, now employs some 60,000 workers and has a budget of about $7.5 billion. In response to the report, the TSA said in a statement:
“TSA holds its employees to the highest ethical standards and expects all TSA employees to conduct themselves with integrity and professionalism. TSA concurs with GAO’s four recommendations to ensure that the agency establishes a process to verify that TSA staff at airports are in compliance, and is already working to implement these recommendations.
“All aspects of our workforce regimen—hiring, promotion, retention, training, proactive compliance inspections, investigations, and adjudications—are driven by adherence to the highest ethical standards. There is zero tolerance for misconduct in the workplace and TSA takes appropriate action when substantiated, including anything from a referral to law enforcement or termination of employment.”
The TSA also noted that a special employee relations office was created in 2004 to deal with misconduct and that in 2010 it created an office of professional responsibility to adjudicate misconduct reports.
In 2012, the TSA sought to reprimand two of the largest groups within its entire history. In Fort Meyers, Fla., five TSA workers were fired and 38 others were suspended for two weeks after an investigation found that late-night screeners were not performing random searches. In Newark, N.J., 25 workers were fired and another 19 were suspended for improper screening of checked luggage. In 2011, 48 TSA employees in Honolulu faced suspension or firing for a similar reason.
The audit’s recommendations to develop guidelines to report misconduct and establish a review process for workers who have been accused of misconduct have been endorsed by the TSA.