Air travel can actually make you less safe. Forget snakes on a plane or airborne illness. There is a one in three chance that the TSA agent on duty has an allegation of misconduct on his or her record.
TSA agents have been caught and charged with using cocaine on the job, facilitating large-scale drug and human trafficking, and engaging in child pornography all while on the job. Then there’s the sexual misconduct such as the pair of Seattle agents who targeted attractive men for extra pat downs.
A six-month congressional investigation of the agency finds that misconduct at the TSA grew 29 percent from fiscal year 2013 to 2015. According to the report, in 2015 some 17,627 allegations of employee misconduct were filed – up from 13,722 in 2013. This is the equivalent of misconduct among one in every three of the TSA’s 55,000 full-time employees.
Misconduct allegations were highest in large airports such as Los Angeles International, Newark Internationals, and Boston Logan International Airports. They also experienced the largest increases in the number of allegations during this time period. However, something is amiss at a small Northeast airport that went from two allegations to 77 – a whopping 3,750 percent increase!
At the same time that the number of misconduct allegations increased, the TSA has conducted fewer investigation into misconduct and taken less action to discipline employees. The number of opened investigations dropped by 15 percent and closed cases dropped by 28 percent.
The TSA has increasingly responded with on a slap on the wrists. Non-disciplinary actions such as counseling and letters explaining why certain behaviors weren’t kosher were given out in two out of three adjudicated cases. Disciplinary actions dropped by 14 percent and only about 6 percent of allegations resulted in the agent getting suspended, demoted, retired, or fired.
Senior officials haven’t escaped the naught list either. They have been involved in serious misconduct and abuse of internal policies according to the report.
It’s nice to know just whose hands we’re entrusting our bodies and safety to.
Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency Scott Perry (R-PA) who conducted the investigation noted:
“Growing misconduct across TSA’s ranks and TSA’s lack of accountability is alarming and unacceptable. We’re in the highest threat environment since 9/11 and terrorists are intent on attacking civil aviation, as we’ve seen in Brussels and Istanbul. TSA needs significant and lasting reforms to address its employee misconduct crisis. I urge Administrator Neffenger to immediately implement the recommendations in our report to improve the integrity of the workforce and ensure they are focused on their core mission—protecting travelers.”
The report makes some recommendations, but the TSA’s track record in implementing measures is less than stellar as CNN reports:
The report acknowledges changes made by current administrator, Peter Neffenger , to improve the agency, but expressed uncertainty about how the agency will continue to address misconduct.
The committee made several recommendations for TSA to implement to get a better handle on employee misconduct, including identifying a senior executive to be responsible for overseeing the misconduct process.
This comes just as another allegation of misconduct emerges in Seattle. A 29-year-old TSA agent reportedly was caught taking video up the skirt of an unsuspecting female passenger. A TSA special agent and Port of Seattle police began surveillance of his actions a week prior based on tips about his behavior toward female passengers. They caught him red handed, according to the Seattle Times
We often worry about terrorists hijacking airplanes or trying to kill us midair, but it appears we’re also at risk just by going through security at the hands of an agent who likely faced charges. Not every agent is questionable, but the actions of so many suggest problems are more widespread than the Administration will admit.