The latest group of transportation security officers (TSO) aiding and abetting attacks on the agency’s character are the 42 employees facing discipline on charges that they did not conduct random, secondary screenings at the airport in Fort Myers, Fla., last year.
On June 1, the TSA recommended that five employees face dismissal and 37 be suspended on allegations that they did not do the checks over a two-month period.
“What does it take to get fired at TSA?” Rep. Mike D. Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the Homeland Security transportation subcommittee asked TSA Administrator John S. Pistole at a hearing last week.
John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents the security officers, said in an interview that supervisors told the officers not to do the random checks.
The five recommended for termination were supervisory transportation security officers, responsible only for checkpoint security, and not the overall Fort Myers operation. But the top TSA official at the airport, his deputy and another manager are among those who face suspension.
Forty-two disciplinary actions — involving 15 percent of the Fort Myers staff — at one time is huge, but it’s not a TSA record. A year ago, the TSA moved to fire more than 30 Honolulu International Airport employees, out of 48 facing disciplinary action on allegations of improper screening of checked baggage.
Incidents like those at Fort Myers and Honolulu can smear the agency in a more significant way than the occasional over zealous pat-down. Yet, as egregious as those more serious situations are, they were not the main focus of the hearing. Instead, Rogers targeted the size of the TSO staff, which numbers almost 50,000.
Rogers said he “strongly” believes the TSA “is bloated with personnel.”
“It could reduce its ranks by 30 percent to 40 percent and still be able to do the job just as effectively,” he said. “I also believe that if we had that leaner, smaller workforce, the public would have greater confidence, because the public is upset when they go in the airport and see all these people standing around doing nothing. And then the ones they do interact with seem unprofessional.”
That’s a bad rap on the officers, who screen airline passengers and baggage, but it fits nicely with the larger Republican agenda to cut the size of government and complements a GOP push for greater privatization of the workforce. The TSA and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, have been the subject of a series of critical hearings called by the House Republican majority.,
In response to Rogers’s call for deep personnel cuts, Pistole, at first, was vague. “Well, that’s a very challenging proposition from a number of standpoints,” he said.