TSA Chief says Americans should expect some airport screeners to be criminals
From sleeping on the job to running prostitution rings off the clock, agents in the Transportation Security Administration have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. But TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski shrugged off critiques of his employees at a hearing this week, saying Americans shouldn’t expect more from their airport screeners than they would from the average guy on the street.
“If you have an organization of 60,000 people, that’s like a city,” Halinski protested, when asked if Americans were right to be unhappy with the TSA. “You’re always going to have crime in a city. You’re always going to have people who don’t do things that are proper and make mistakes. I’m not saying we are different from any other group of Americans; I’m saying we are exactly like every group of Americans.”
Recent incidents of TSA worker malfeasance include a fiasco last June in which 47 agents and a federal security director were fired or suspended at the Honolulu airport for failing to screen checked baggage for explosives; charges against an off-duty agent in a stabbing death in Jackson, Miss., last September; the scandal after a TSA manager at Dulles was arrested on the job for running a prostitution ring in March; and the firing of eight screeners and investigation of dozens more in Newark, N.J. just last month after it was found that workers were sleeping at their posts.
When pressed by House Homeland Security Transportation Security subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) about the griping he was hearing about the TSA “every time I go to Walmart or church,” Halinski went after the complainers instead of taking responsibility.
While admitting that 47 percent of news stories and 80 percent of blog posts written about the TSA since 2009 were negative, according to the administration’s own statistics, Halinski implied that most of the critiques were coming from overcritical cowards.
“It’s very easy to put a negative comment in a blog and not put your name on it,” he said.
In testimony, Halinski said the administration was working to improve its employees’ performance, instituting “Behavior Awareness Training,” professional development courses designed to prepare screeners for “all types of human interactions” and a screening essentials course for supervisors. In addition, he said certain offenses, such as stealing, drug use, or lack of security protocol, could now get employees fired on the spot.
But Halinski would not say whether a new labor contract, on which negotiations have just completed this week, would keep the stringent termination protocols in place.
Rogers said he was pleased with administrative changes being made, but wanted to see results.
“In Americans’ minds, TSA represents everything wrong about the federal government, bloated and bureaucracy,” he said.