TSA to reform misconduct review policy

The Transportation Security Administration told Congress on Wednesday that it will establish a process to verify staff compliance at airports after a government watchdog reported a 26 percent increase in annual employee misconduct cases over two years.

The General Accountability Office’s report reviewed 9,600 cases of employee misconduct from 2010 to 2012 and found that half were regarding attendance and leave, and screening and 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,” John Halinski, TSA’s deputy administrator, told members of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “What happens if we can’t immediately prove it is, we give them the due diligence any American is able to get through a process, we run an investigation.”

Committee members expressed concern over the report by GAO’s Stephen Lord. Lord told lawmakers that five of seven surveyed airports weren’t using TSA’s database to track misconduct cases. The report said TSA does not have a systematic approach to disciplining staff members.

The TSA “still does not have a system in place to ensure that allegations of employee misconduct are adjudicated consistently and uniformly. The bulk of employee misconduct cases are handled at the airport level,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) said. “What happens at one airport may differ from what happens at another.”

Halinski said the agency’s adjudication strategy consists of delivering letters of reprimand, followed by suspensions and removing employees. He said many of the attendance and leave misconduct cases were simply people showing up late for work.

“People don’t show up for work,” Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) said. “How can you properly screen folks?”

TSA has never enjoyed great public support. In the decade after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the agency received steady criticism for its security methods. In early 2010, news reports cited allegations of TSA employee misconduct, prompting the GAO’s review. In September 2010, TSA created an office to provide consistency in penalty determinations. Full-body scanners were implemented in 2010, prompting a debate on whether the agency’s thorough pat-downs and nearly transparent body scans were constitutional.

“We had knuckleheads that did stupid things on the weekends or other times,” Halinski told lawmakers. “That’s going to happen. We will hold them accountable.”

He reiterated TSA’s commitment to GAO’s recommendations of verifying staff compliance, recording and tracking adjudication and providing a reconciliation procedure.

“We absolutely embrace the comments made by the GAO,” he said. “We’re in the process and have almost completely taken those onboard and completed those. We believe they’ll be complete by the end of September, October.”

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