Skift Take

The TSA has been a mess for years. Reform itself is probably impossible given its current bureaucratic structure, which doesn't punish employees strongly enough for misbehavior and insulates the TSA's leadership from making hard decisions about those who misbehave.

While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been placed under scrutiny for long security checkpoint lines this summer, the true scope of the organization’s problems are more deeply embedded in its bureaucratic culture.

Close to half of the Transportation Security Administration’s 60,000 employees have been cited for misconduct in recent years, according to a scathing report from the House Homeland Security Committee, and misconduct citations have increased each year since 2013.

In fact, misconduct citations increased 28.5 percent from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2015.

Passengers, TSA employees, and other government employees can file misconduct allegations against TSA workers, so the shocking number of allegations amount to more than just angry flyers taking out their frustrations or TSA infighting.

Besides making life miserable for travelers, this misconduct ends up increasing costs for the TSA since it often pays to relocate misbehaving officers. Managers also use the threat of relocation to deter employees from reporting misconduct.

“Our investigation found that senior management officials at TSA have also allegedly been involved in serious misconduct and abuse of internal policies, indicating that misconduct occurs at all levels of TSA,” reads the report’s executive summary. “Specifically, numerous individuals came forward to the Committee alleging that senior TSA officials used the practice of directed reassignments, or mandated employee transfers around the country, as, in some cases, retaliation for employees elevating security concerns.”

These are the areas of misconduct for which TSA employees were most cited and how they have increased over time:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 10.47.35 AM

A look at the actual scope of misconduct is staggering, with a good portion of offenders being cited for misconduct multiple times. Almost 27,000 total TSA employees were cited for misconduct from fiscal year 2013 through fiscal year 2015, with 1,270 employees being cited five or more times.

Here’s a breakdown of the misconduct complaints and the number of TSA employees implicated:

Number of Complaints Number of Employees
1 15,385
2 6,195
3 2,778
4 1,250
5 606
6 304
7 149
8 118
9 44
10 22
11 9
12 8
13 4
14 4
16 1
18 1
Total 26,878


Furthermore, a look at which airports received the most complaints shows that the most popular U.S. airports are the most likely to suffer TSA misconduct.

The average U.S. airport received 58 complaints a year, more than one each week. The highest rates of misconduct took place at some of the country’s busiest airports: Los Angeles International Airport, Newark International Airport, and Boston Logan International Airport.

In fiscal year 2015, one airport received a whopping 1,500 misconduct allegations.

The vast majority of complaints were filed against Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), the workers who provide security at U.S. airports; 90.8 percent of total allegations filed were against TSOs, with just 4.8 percent being filed against managers or administrators.

Two-thirds of adjudicated cases in fiscal year 2015 resulting in non-disciplinary action against the offending employees, and only six percent of total infractions resulted in disciplinary action.

Finally, the report calls out the TSA and TSA administrator Peter Neffenger for not doing enough to reform the organization or provide any sort of accountability for its internal disciplinary actions.

“During the course of this investigation, it became clear to the Committee that TSA has not taken all the necessary steps to ensure that employees follow policies and that misconduct is properly addressed,” the report concludes. “TSA has issued policies and the Table of Offenses and Penalties that, in theory, should provide guidance to employees about appropriate conduct and processes for addressing misconduct. However, TSA has not put in place effective mechanisms to ensure that policies are followed.”

The full report is embedded below.

Download (PDF, 325KB)


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Tags: security, tsa

Photo credit: A TSA officer, left, checks a passenger's ticket, boarding pass and passport at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. A new report cites an alarming rate of complaints against agents. Mark Lennihan / AP Photo

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