The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is policing itself and taking swift action in response to accusations of stealing, bribery and other criminal activity by employees, a top official told a House panel today.
Questions about how effectively the TSA is screening its screeners have added to other embarrassments for the agency, including purchases of equipment that didn’t work and checkpoint confrontations involving children, senior citizens and members of Congress.
An April arrest of TSA employees at Los Angeles International Airport on drug trafficking charges marked the third case this year involving allegations that agency staff took bribes. Agents have also been accused of stealing iPads, cash and jewelry from luggage.
“I’m not going to tolerate criminal conduct,” TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski said at a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing in Washington today. “I give you my word.”
Criminal incidents are rare among the agency’s 52,000-employee workforce, Halinski told the Transportation Security subcommittee. The agency is working to strengthen hiring standards, training and management, and has established an office to investigate and discipline employees when needed, he said.
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers, who has held a series of hearings on the agency’s performance, said he was concerned that the criminal reports are contributing to “TSA’s shattered public image.”
The agency would be better off privatizing some of its workforce, he said.
“They’re just too focused on trying to manage this gargantuan bureaucracy,” Rogers, an Alabama Republican, told reporters after the hearing. “This public lack of confidence is a real problem for them, and it’s going to start manifesting itself in the Congress if they don’t get it fixed.”
Fixing TSA’s image is a priority, Halinski said. Of 600 million passengers screened a year, fewer than 60,000 complain of their treatment, he said.
“Overall, most travelers have a positive experience,” Halinski said.