Letter From a Passenger: “How Do TSA Employees Feel About Working For a Despised Agency?”

This one comes from Rod.

“Would you know if the TSA higher-ups acknowledge the outcry against the agency and how they are attempting to handle said outcry? And are the screeners themselves aware, and how are they attempting to handle the outcry?”

Dear Rod,

Forgive me for answering the first part of your question in the style of a fairy tale, but it’s the only style in which information has ever been delivered to me by TSA higher-ups…

Every now and then in the life of a TSA screener, higher-ups from Washington D.C. will come around to his or her airport to hold a little town hall-style meeting for the officers, which, for the most part, nobody gives a shit about. The higher-ups at these meetings invariably assure the screeners that TSA is moving toward an “advanced counter-terrorism agency” that will “one day be highly respected,” and will be “quite a desirable job in the federal family.” They then throw any and all available data up into the air above the round table, like Gandalf throwing up a plume of magic dust– a dazzling flurry of information and statistics (such as the recent poll that the “majority of Americans think the TSA is doing a good job“). And yea, many of the screeners in the room stand rapt, and in awe.

And all the believers in the room go prostrate and weep tears of joy, for one day, they all believe, salvation from the land of Most Reviled Government Agency (a land in which the TSA daily does battle against the ancient and mighty IRS dragon) will come.

But really, the higher-ups know that the battle to leave the Land of the Damned Reviled Government Agency will never be won. Nay, not in this decade. For the TSA was formed at a terror-crazed, hysterical moment in history, and reacted to everything thusly, and with corresponding heavy hand. Forsooth, even though the heavy blue-glov’d hand could have been put away long ago, it takes enormous bureaucracies forever to do anything, and so the elimination of idiotic policies and unpopular, invasive, privacy-compromising measures, such as nude radiation scanners that do not work, will endure for many moons


TSA higher-ups (such as the ones whose town hall-style meetings I’ve attended) know, and sometimes admit (in hushed tones), that the public, in general, either A. doesn’t care about what the TSA does, at best, or B. wishes dissolution upon them, at worst, but as a bloated bureaucracy tangled in the accompanying red-tape morass, with a confused mission and culture on top of it, change is extremely slow in being implemented– decisions being made by committee, as they of course are– and it certainly doesn’t help that the members of the committee in this case know that they are at a bottom-of-the-barrel agency, and probably want to transfer the hell out of the agency to somewhere more respectable, ASAP. Either that, or they sit around trying to make names for themselves within the miserable agency by filibustering decisions up for review such as “should we just let people take their 5 ounce bottles of shampoo? Is there a way we can do that? Can we do that?”

On the floor, screeners also know that the public is either ambivalent or hostile toward  them. In general, the screeners do what people naturally do: order the situation into an Us vs. Them dynamic.

So you get a lot of screeners who are all, “What’s these passengers’ problems? Why don’t they and their families just line up and jump into our fucking radiation scanners and give up their nude images? Whiny bastards.”

And you also get screeners who are all, “I don’t really care about any of this, I’m just here for the pay check. Everything bounces off of me. Whatever.”

And some screeners, my personal favorites, are sort of like, “Well, no wonder so many of them hate us. Look at the mindless, senseless shit I am doing right now. Like this jar of apple butter belonging to that grandma over there that I am throwing in the trash right now? Makes very little sense. I sure do hope my application to Customs and Border Patrol advances along, soon, because this is just dumb.” (I’ve known a few screeners who went from TSA on to the FBI, and who assured me that they pretty much have to do their best to hide their previous employer from their new FBI buddies in much the same way that a child molester tries to hide his crime from prison mates. TSA is the laughing stock of America’s security apparatus, which will come as no surprise to anyone.)

In short: the higher-ups are of course aware of people’s general disdain for TSA, and seem to handle all the TSA-hatred defensively, reactively; wrapped in a constant state of damage control, weathering a seemingly-endless storm of negative media attention, while constantly putting to the test the riddle: “How many suits making $100,000 a year does it take to figure out a way to not confiscate 8 oz. jars of peanut butter and tubs of hummus from grandmothers thousands of times a day all over the nation, solidifying the nation’s disdain for our agency?”

And the screeners are certainly aware of the state of things, as each day every screener comes across various unhappy passengers, many of whom let them know that the policies being enforced are ridiculous. The screeners either A. Have the 6th grade mentality of, basically, “our policies aren’t dumb, you’re dumb” or B. They quietly agree with the passengers, and do their best to bend the dumb, rigid rules, whenever possible, as they figure out a way get out of TSA, ASAP.

Hope that helps,


Send all questions to takingsenseaway@gmail.com

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