The other day, the GAO issued another one of its frequent reports criticizing the TSA, citing a rise in the number of misconduct cases and a failure on the part of many airports to properly use the TSA’s database to track those misconduct cases. The report prompted a spokesperson from the TSA’s union, AFGE, to fire back, crying foul.
Below is the breakdown of the GAO’s findings regarding the frequency and types of misconduct among TSA employees from 2010-2012.
And below is a breakdown on the types of disciplinary measures meted out to the TSA workforce in those same years.
The TSA’s worker’s union shot back with this response:
“The GAO study of allegations of misconduct on the part of TSA employees has been wildly misrepresented. In an agency with a workforce the size of a small city, spread out over more than 400 airports, misconduct numbers this small indicate success, not failure. No one condones any misconduct and TSA is diligent in investigating allegations that range from being a few minutes late to work to violating security protocol.”
The union spokesperson then went on to claim that the TSA is the only thing stopping the U.S. from falling back into a “failed security system like the one pre-9/11,” and that privatizing airport security on a nationwide basis would be some sort of grave error.
This entire thing is a circus of silliness, to tell you the truth, as nearly everything involving the TSA has been from day one.
1) The rising number of TSA misconduct cases is not good, there is no denying that. But the thing we should be looking at if we truly want to identify the central flaws of the TSA so as to improve it (or even make a thorough case for privatization), is the cultural and systemic problems of the TSA’s, not just the symptoms of the underlying issue. As just one example of what the numbers on that first table may actually translate to, in a deeper sense: think about the third largest category on the table, “Failure to Follow Instructions.” What percentage of those instructions were issued by members of upper management with questionable qualifications, or who are universally despised by their subordinates? Why is TSA management so vehemently despised by so many subordinates? What’s the nature of the promotion system that brought those managers into place? How many of those screeners who failed to follow instructions were actually just exercising common sense within a culture of absurdity?
2) The GAO itself is enabling the TSA to continue its existence as a deeply flawed organization through these desultory, superficial reports, which the House Committee then pounces upon right on cue, giving its clockwork show of consternation for the cameras.
3) The union president had a valid point when he called attention to the size of the TSA workforce in comparison to the GAO’s numbers on employee misconduct, but then went on to undermine it by claiming that the TSA is the “Only thing standing in the way of a return to the failed, for-profit security model.” The TSA was just the government’s way of saying “Sorry, don’t be scared, you’re safe on airplanes now, we’ve got everything under control” after 9/11, even though the critical aviation security vulnerabilities that could sensibly be addressed were mostly resolved before the inaugural class of TSA screeners was even deployed (the hardening of the cockpit doors being the most costly and time-consuming measure that actually made sense). Nationwide privatization of airport security would not make the nation’s airways any less safe.
To the AFGE union president: I understand that your bombastic statement was designed to fend off the steady drumbeat for airport security privatization from certain corners of D.C., in the interest of preserving your organization’s position as the TSA workers’ official union, but I don’t think that it’s in your best interest to call any sort of attention to the costs and or benefits of federal vs. private security.
Finally, John Halinki, TSA deputy administrator, put the cherry on top of the entire affair by informing the House Committee on Homeland Security:
“If we can prove that an individual is intentionally subjugating the security system and we can prove it immediately, they’re out the door.”
Good to know that the TSA will only stand for individuals who are unintentionally reigning over the entire federal aviation security system.