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The U.S. Transportation Security Administration isn’t consistent in disciplining workers accused of misconduct, penalizing some with little evidence while not imposing minimum sanctions on others, an audit concluded.
Half of workers accused of sleeping on the job received less than the lowest penalty called for by agency policies, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released today. The House Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing tomorrow on how the agency disciplines employees.
TSA agents were accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers in Los Angeles last year. Another officer, later fired, was shown on ABC News denying he had a stolen iPad when its alarm was beeping inside his house. As of last September, the agency had fired 381 employees for stealing since 2003.
“TSA plays fast and loose with its use of recommended penalties for misconduct,” Representative Jeff Duncan, chairman of the Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee, said in a statement. “These findings show why many Americans have lost respect for the agency protecting our airports.”
The agency has stopped short of suspending or firing agents caught sleeping, said Duncan, a South Carolina Republican. TSA has also limited punishment of some officers accused of stealing to a letter of reprimand, he said.
The agency is also failing to review cases of alleged serious misconduct, including allowing people to bypass screening, the GAO said.
TSA handles its workforce according to the “highest ethical standards,” Ross Feinstein, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. The agency expects all employees to conduct themselves with integrity and professionalism, he said.
“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,” Feinstein said.
TSA has processed 56 cases alleging theft since 2010, the GAO said. That included a 2011 incident involving a screener at Orlando International Airport who pleaded guilty to stealing more than 80 laptops and other electronic devices valued at $80,000, the agency said.
From 2011 through June, TSA’s appeals board reduced or overturned 125 of 836 disciplinary cases because charges hadn’t been proven by preponderance of the evidence. In 34 of those cases, the agency’s adjudicating officer hadn’t considered mitigating factors, the GAO said.
About one-third of allegations made against TSA employees in 9,622 cases investigated between 2010 and 2012 involved attendance and leave issues, such as unexcused absences or tardiness, the GAO said. There were 426 cases of neglect of duty and 384 cases of ethical violations like bribery or credit-card abuse.
Asked about reports of theft last year, TSA administrator John Pistole said the agency uses closed-circuit cameras in checked-baggage areas to deter stealing and rebut false accusations. In cases where the video shows theft has occurred, the agency fires the individuals and seeks criminal prosecutions, he said.
The TSA is working to implement the GAO’s recommendations, which include better tracking outcomes of discipline cases and ensuring policies are applied consistently, said Feinstein, the agency spokesman.
More than a decade into its history, TSA isn’t ensuring employee misconduct cases are being handled fairly, said Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat.
“Failing to do so leaves TSA vulnerable to claims that punishment for misconduct could be tainted by influences beyond the facts,” he said in a statement.
Editors: Bernard Kohn and Elizabeth Wasserman. To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at email@example.com.