Even more to the point was the opening statement from Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security: “Stealing from checked luggage; accepting bribes from drug smugglers; sleeping or drinking while on duty — this kind of criminal behavior and negligence has contributed significantly to TSA’s shattered public image.”
This hearing on the TSA and others that the Republican majority has called do more than examine whatever the particular issue is on the agenda. They feed a GOP narrative that the TSA is too big, much of its work should be privatized and a union contract could make things worse.
After the hearing, Rogers told reporters that he favors cuts in the agency’s “gargantuan bureaucracy” and the growth of a TSA program that allows private screeners to work with government supervision. And he wants to ensure it’s not too hard to fire folks.
“I’m a big believer that the private sector is much more customer service oriented than the public sector. . . . You’ll find private companies are much more able to get rid of bad apples than the government is,” he said.
Officials with the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents transportation security officers (TSOs), were busy trying to complete the union’s first labor agreement with the TSA at the time of the hearing. It’s just as well. A spokeswoman said they weren’t invited to testify anyway.
TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski, a 25-year Marine Corps veteran, declined to answer repeated questions about the contract negotiations. He didn’t have to be so reticent, particularly when panel members asked about the effect of unionization on security.
Without discussing the labor talks, he could have pointed to the many federal, state and local law enforcement officers who would be insulted by any suggestion that their status as union members makes them any less professional or effective.
Halinski could have reminded legislators of the comments his boss made when the TSA granted workers limited collective-bargaining rights 13 months ago. “The safety of the traveling public is our top priority, and we will not negotiate on security,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said then. “But morale and employee engagement cannot be separated from achieving superior security.”
It would have been helpful to get the employee perspective because the sad truth is that there have been too many cases of misconduct by transportation security officers, who screen people and baggage at the nation’s airports. Rogers listed several places — Honolulu, Newark, Fort Myers, Fla., Jackson, Miss., and Dulles International Airport — where screeners have been suspended, fired or arrested.