Agents from the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) have come out of the shadows to testify that workers who attempt to blow the whistle on wrongdoing (as with some other federal agencies) often become targets of retaliation by leadership. No wonder the TSA is one of the worst places to work.

TSA employees appeared before a congressional panel on government oversight and reform this week to testify about what happens to staff when they report security gaps and personnel issues. The agency which ranked near the bottom of best places to work in the federal government suffers from low morale. Yet, agents have consistently failed to discover explosives in undercover investigations. The TSA has failed at its core mission, while staff get away with groping kids and the elderly while sexually assaulting unsuspecting passengers. 

Staff point to senior managers who use reassignments, demotions, and retirements to deal with whistle blowers. For example, Andrew Rhoades, assistant federal security director for TSA’s office of security operations, claimed he was given a ticket to Florida (a forced transfer not a vacation) because a supervisor believed he was leaking information to the local press. After an investigation, the TSA later rescinded the transfer. However, Rhoades explained what happened when he raised issues with the wasted money on an unused facility:

He said TSA built a $300,000 regional office in Minneapolis for a regional director that had no intention of ever being based in the city, but no one listened to Rhoades when he raised the issue. Now, the unused office is being converted into a coordination center, but for another additional cost, he said.

“When you make suggestions like that, you get cut out of the meeting or you’re not consulted anymore,” Rhoades said. “It’s gross mismanagement”

Another staffer, program manager in the agency’s Office of the Chief Risk Officer Mark Livingston, alleges that he was reduced two pay grades and lost $10,000 from his annual salary to humiliate him after he reported that a coworker was sexually harassing another employee.

The Washington Post reports:

“These leaders are some of the biggest bullies in government,” Jay Brainard, a TSA security director in Kansas, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “While the new administrator of TSA has made security a much-needed priority once again, make no mistake about it, we remain an agency in crisis.”

“Many airports are complaining that TSA is getting worse, not better,” said Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). He said that 103 of the TSA’s 48,000 airport screeners quit each week.

Chaffetz set up the hearing to get TSA staff on record and to demand answers on disciplinary actions taken against TSA employees by the agency’s Administrator Peter Neffenger. Despite his efforts, not enough has been done to hold senior leaders accountable and some are reportedly waiting for Neffenger to leave.

No one should ever work in an environment where reporting wrong-doing, mismanagement, and incompetence earns you retaliation and public humiliation, least of all when its funded by us taxpayers.

Odious attitudes appear to permeate middle and senior leadership that have creating a culture of bullying that allegedly flaunts rules and covers up wrongdoing at the TSA (and reportedly other agencies such as the IRS, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Drug Enforcement Agency). Cosmetic changes won't do it. Until the infection in these agencies are excised (not just a resignation from the top official, but the layers underneath him/her), nothing will change. a