The recent GAO report on the TSA criticizes the alarming level of misconduct and mismanagement within the agency. The report spawned a series of articles citing the failure of TSA management to reprimand abusive screeners. Many of those articles touched on some of the more publicized thefts while ignoring the depth and breadth of the abuses.
Notably, there have been three TSA screeners arrested for crimes in one month who were not mentioned in any of the dozens of articles posted this week. Last week Larry Kobielnik was arrested for sexual assault and attempted rape in Florida, a month after Massachusetts TSA employee Miguel Quinones was arrested for having child pornography on a laptop in his locker and Honolulu screener Tracy Leanne Owens was caught stealing cash from a passenger’s luggage.
In the past three years, over 115 TSA workers have been arrested, including 19 for sex crimes; of those sex crimes, 16 involved children. Thirty-five of those 115 arrests were for theft, 12 for smuggling contraband through security, and one for murder. Over 500 TSA workers have been arrested on the job, according to TSA records. A 2012 report issued by Rep. Marsha Blackburn outlined 50 of the most egregious crimes and criminals working as TSA screeners. And these are just the ones who have been caught and exposed.
Despite attempts by the TSA to suppress stories by firing workers before their arrest or releasing an endless stream of fluff stories reporting that they “discovered” a paperweight shaped like a grenade, the fact remains that TSA workers continue to commit crimes and abuse passengers at an increasing pace. The GAO report notes a 26% increase over a three-year period, adding nearly 1,000 additional cases of misconduct from 2010 to 2012. That would seem to indicate that the TSA’s efforts have been directed to damage control and public image rather than addressing systemic deficiencies in its staffing, enforcement, and procedures.
The GAO report has prompted two legislators, Representatives Jeff Duncan and Richard Hudson to launch a hearing into the lack of integrity within the TSA, along with promises to reform the agency. Unfortunately, there have been many other failed efforts at reining in this corrupt agency that have fallen by the wayside once media coverage subsides and there’s little political capital to be gained.
After three women were strip-searched at JFK in one weekend in November 2011, Rep. Charles Schumer promised legislation to require passenger advocates at the checkpoints to reduce TSA passenger abuse, and Rep Marsha Blackburn introduced the “STRIP Act” to reduce TSA harassment by eliminating the faux law enforcement uniforms. Both of these bills, along with many others, failed to make it out of the House. Only one measure that benefited travelers was the removal of the backscatter (x-ray) scanners, and then only because the vendor failed to develop the privacy software mandated by Congress.
The bulk of the TSA-related legislation and Executive Orders enacted since 2010 have benefitted TSA employees represented by the AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees). Among these was a law requiring TSA employees get whistleblower protections and an Executive Order that effectively exempted TSA employees from sequestration furloughs.
Like so many things in Washington, these are an endless series of repeats of last year’s episodes. This time last year the GAO also issued a report on misconduct among TSA screeners. Sound familiar? Congress, acting on the preliminary information from the GAO on TSA and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) workers, held hearings in May 2012. To date, nothing has resulted from those hearings.
Those following the soap opera that is the TSA will not be surprised when yet another GAO report on rising TSA misconduct is released next year. As we’ve learned, there’s never any accountability for the TSA nor punishment for their misdeeds.