I can’t help but feel a little sympathy for the Transportation Safety Administration.
That’s not to say the agency doesn’t deserve the criticism it gets. Actually, given its history of blunders – like its take on invasive screening processes, or its decision to ban bottled water while at the same time asserting that small knives are no longer a security threat – it’s difficult to argue there’s another government organization with a bigger target on its forehead.
Yet every time the TSA embarrasses itself, you can’t help but laugh a little inside. It’s like the Bob Denver of the public sector.
This week, the TSA took another blow from a government watchdog report which found that cases of TSA misconduct have grown 26 percent over the last three years. According to the report, the number of misconduct cases jumped from 2,691 in 2010, to 3,408 in 2012.
Of those cases, roughly 32 percent involved attendance (TSA employees late to work, ducking out early, or just not showing up at all) and 20 percent involved security standards violations. Ten percent of offenses involved inappropriate comments or abusive behavior. Employees were also caught sleeping on the job, allowing friends and family members to bypass standard security – even stealing from travelers.
In a publicized report, one TSA officer at an airport in Orlando pleaded guilty to embezzlement and stealing 80 laptop computers from passenger’s luggage.
Perhaps more shocking is the TSA’s handling of misconduct allegations. Less than half of filed cases resulted in letters of reprimand describing unacceptable conduct; 31 percent ended in employee suspensions; and only 17 percent resulted in the worker leaving the agency.
While the TSA is certainly seeing some blowback from these numbers, particularly from those weary travelers who never make it through the metal detector on the first try, I think maybe the agency should be cut a little slack. Lest we forget, TSA employees have a demanding job – keeping our nation’s airports safe. The fact that they’re expected to do so day in and day out while also rationalizing with thousands of loud-mouth, know-it-all frequent flyers is nothing short of extraordinary.
I used to work in fast food. I admit, fast food isn’t quite as important as airport screening, but the demands are similar in some regards. Example: both require one-on-one customer communication; both deal with seemingly endless lines of people anxious to get through in a hurry, and both require gloves to touch things that frankly, you really don’t want to touch.
Point being? Whether it’s fast food or airport security, there’s only so much one person can deal with when it comes to the general public. Given my experiences, I’m amazed the watchdog’s report doesn’t cite an instance of a TSA agent stuffing someone into their own suitcase.
Not to mention, there’s 56,000 people staffed by the TSA. Though the recent report is certainly a blemish on the face of what is quite possibly the country’s least favorite of government agencies, it’s fair to say a few black sheep can be expected.
The TSA is good for a laugh, sure. But even they deserve a break every once in a while.
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