Letter from a Former TSA Agent: San Diego International Airport in the Spotlight

And we’re back, after that tumultuous coming out from anonymity phase I just went through. I’m going to resume business as usual with this site, for the most part.

Up next we have a letter from Alexandra Epstein, a former TSA agent. She makes some salient points.

I read with interest your article and the blow back by TSA.  I too was a TSO by accident.  I didn’t want to leave San Diego after giving up academia (I hold a Ph.D. in American history). I worked for TSA from March of 2008 until they fired me six months after filing an EEOC complaint for workplace hostility, discrimination and retaliation.  I was dismissed in November of 2012.  I hired an attorney after the firing and we are waiting for a hearing date.

I think that you made some important points that were implicit in your discussion of the Rapiscan body scanners and the actions of the TSOs involved in the process.  We could argue whether or not the procedures were proper, useful or violated passengers’ rights.  To me, however, the bigger issues were:

1. Knowing that the machines could not do their jobs, why did the agency purchase them only to discard them?  They wasted millions of dollars.

2. Why were the personnel– TSOs– hired to work the IO room allowed to conduct themselves in the manner they did quite frequently here in San Diego.  They were never supervised.

To me, this leads to an even larger issue you don’t address: the poor quality of management and officers.  While the Rapiscan body scanners are gone, the hiring and promotion process is still horrific to say the least.  The former FSD in San Diego resigned because of misuse of funds.  Managers can’t be fired unless they commit a felony, yet TSOs are fired all the time for less.

Consequently, you have managers supervising personnel while they themselves can have a terrible work history and letters of this and that offense in their files – even those guilty in EEOC cases – retain their positions!  They just move these folks around from airport to airport and in some cases, to headquarters.  Perhaps if TSA hired top-notch managers and staff in Arlington, the Agency would have an improved security system rather than the perpetuation of security theatre as it’s been called for years.  The BDO program is an example of this.  Study after study says it’s a waste but because so many folks at TSA have an interest in its existence, it will continue.  Of course, those TSOs being stupid in the IO room are a reflection of the poor quality of hiring at the lowest level.  I learned a phrase at TSA that I think is very apt: “You can’t polish a turd.”  Nevertheless, TSA keeps on trying…

I wrote pretty much this same thing to Congressmember Bennie Thompson who chairs the democratic side of the Homeland Security Committee and to the Administrator, John Pistole.  I’d be happy to share that letter too.  I had wanted to be part of the solution, but clearly that’s not what the Agency wanted.

-Alexandra Epstein

Hi Alexandra,

You make some great points there. That Politico article was, in fact, just one tiny piece of all the things I have written about the TSA. After all, this blog has been in existence for over a year, with fairly regular updates. For instance, I discussed management here, as well as in various other posts; ditto the behavior detection program here. But I thank you for writing in to back up those posts, as well as for providing additional insight.

Usually, when a former officer is willing to allow me to use his or her real name, at least one news reporter will e-mail me, asking to follow up with that officer. Alexandra gave me full permission to use her real name.

If any other current or former TSA employees want to write in, go for it. All correspondents remain strictly anonymous, unless otherwise requested.

E-mail me at jason.e.harrington@gmail.com

I’m on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Jas0nHarringt0n

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