The Revolving Door at the Airport
If you never see the same security screeners at your local airport, there’s a good reason for that. Aviation security blogger and journalist Annie Jacobsen has discovered that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener force—the first line of defense in preventing future 9-11-style terrorist attacks—is, quite literally, a revolving door.
Until now, the number of employees who have left the agency has been a closely-held secret. But Ms. Jacobsen found the information, oddly enough, on TSA’s recently-established blog. The agency’s disclosure paints a disturbing picture of an organization beset by a massive employee exodus, which has cost American taxpayers billions of dollars. As Ms. Jacobson observes:
In an entry from February 15, 2008 called, “The TSA, Our Officers, The Public and Theft,” Christopher [White] from the TSA Evolution Blog Team,” addressed a recent news story about a screener caught stealing gift cards from a passenger’s bag at O’Hare”
“To date, we have terminated and sought prosecution for about 200 of our employees who have been accused of stealing, either from checked bags, passengers’ carry-ons or fellow employees. While 200 out of more than 110,000 employees is a minuscule percentage (less than one half of one percent) over the short life of the agency, one theft is too many when you are in the position of public trust as we are.”
Here’s the translation, broken down, in plain English.
· The TSA has a work force of 43,000.
· TSA blogger Christopher [White] says TSA has had a total of “more than 110,000 employees” in its six-year history.
· That means more than 67,000 individuals who entered into employment contracts with TSA have left the agency over this period of six years.
That’s not attrition. That’s exodus. And it’s egregious fiscal waste.
Bob Marchetta is the Executive Vice President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) local 2222—a union for TSA screeners. Marchetta is also a former TSA Screener, a member of TSA’s second graduating class. “TSA has spent as much as $40,000 for an individual’s training,” Marchetta said. “That number has been trimmed down, and is now between $15,000 and $20,000, per individual, for training.”
Multiply the lowest-end estimated training costs by 67,000 employees who’ve left the agency—that’s more than $1 billion dollars into thin air.
Obviously, any large organization is going to suffer some degree of personnel turnover, and employees leave for various reasons. But Ms. Jacobsen is correct in characterizing the TSA situation as an “exodus,” rather than normal attrition. If the figures in the agency blog are correct—and we have no reason to doubt them—TSA has lost an average of 12,000 employees a year, more than 30% of its workforce.
Most of those leaving the agency are Transportation Security Officers (TSOs)—the screeners you see at the airport. Ms. Jacobsen notes a Congressional Quarterly report that found “when TSA's Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are removed from the equations, DHS' attrition rate drops to 3.3 percent.” Figures in the CQ article indicate that 17% of agency’s TSOs left their job in 2005, and 14% exited the following year. Security screeners represent one-third of the organization’s workforce.
When the TSA was organized in 2001, Congressional supporters claimed that the new agency would “professionalize” functions like passenger and luggage screening, eliminating the turnover and training issues that plagued the previous security system, which was run by private contractors, working for the airlines.
Almost seven years after 9-11, key air security functions are still being handled by a highly transitory workforce, plagued by the same experience and attrition issues that plagued the airline-run system. Yet, the government assures us that airline safety is vastly improved.
True, there have been no hijackings of U.S. passenger jets since that fateful September day in 2001. But an essential tool in deterring future attacks is a competent, experienced cadre of security screeners, stationed at the nation’s airports. That was one of the immediate security goals in the aftermath of 9-11; years later, it’s a goal that has yet to be achieved.