Half of Sleeping TSA Workers Get Little Punishment: GAO

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration isn’t consistent in disciplining workers accused of misconduct, penalizing some with little evidence while not imposing minimum sanctions on others, an audit concluded.

Half of workers accused of sleeping on the job received less than the lowest penalty called for by agency policies, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released yesterday. A House Homeland Security subcommittee is holding a hearing today on how the agency disciplines employees.

TSA agents were accused of taking bribes from drug traffickers in Los Angeles last year. Another officer, later fired, was shown on ABC News denying he had a stolen iPad when its alarm was beeping inside his house. As of last September, the agency had fired 381 employees for stealing since 2003.

“With countless TSA misconduct cases spread throughout the country, confidence in airport security is quickly waning,” Representative Jeff Duncan, chairman of the subcommittee, said at today’s hearing. “Stop with the napping, the stealing, the tardiness and the disrespect. Earn Americans’ trust and confidence.”

The agency has stopped short of suspending or firing agents caught sleeping, said Duncan, a South Carolina Republican. TSA has also limited punishment of some officers accused of stealing to a letter of reprimand, he said.

The agency isn’t reviewing some cases of alleged serious misconduct, including allowing people to bypass screening, the GAO said.

Cases Overturned

TSA handles its workforce according to the highest ethical standards, John Halinski, the agency’s deputy administrator, said at the hearing.

“We do have people who will do stupid things,” Halinski said. “When they do, we will hold them accountable.”

TSA has processed 56 cases alleging theft since 2010, the GAO said. That included a 2011 incident involving a screener at Orlando International Airport who pleaded guilty to stealing more than 80 laptops and other electronic devices valued at $80,000, the agency said.

From 2011 through June, TSA’s appeals board reduced or overturned 125 of 836 disciplinary cases because charges hadn’t been proven by preponderance of the evidence. In 34 of those cases, the agency’s adjudicating officer hadn’t considered mitigating factors, the GAO said.

TSA Probes

About one-third of allegations made against TSA employees in 9,622 cases investigated between 2010 and 2012 involved attendance and leave issues, such as unexcused absences or tardiness, the GAO said. There were 426 cases of neglect of duty and 384 cases of ethical violations like bribery or credit-card abuse.

The TSA is working to implement the GAO’s recommendations, which include better tracking outcomes of discipline cases and ensuring policies are applied consistently, said Halinski, the deputy administrator.

Individuals are fired immediately in cases where TSA can prove that person is stealing, taking drugs or breaching security intentionally, Halinski said. If the proof isn’t there immediately, the agency follows due process and investigates, he said.

More than a decade into its history, TSA isn’t ensuring employee misconduct cases are being handled fairly, said Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat.

“Failing to do so leaves TSA vulnerable to claims that punishment for misconduct could be tainted by influences beyond the facts,” he said in a statement.