Transportation Policy

Almost Half of All TSA Employees Commit Misconduct, New Report Says

The rate of misconduct among staff rose nearly 29 percent in two years.


||| Danjo Paluska / Flickr
Danjo Paluska / Flickr

A new report from the House Homeland Security Committee found that almost half of all Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees allegedly committed some form of misconduct between 2013 and 2015. Additionally, misconduct rose by nearly 29 percent during this period.

Some of the complaints include failure to follow TSA procedures, abusive behavior, sexual misconduct, and bribery. On average, 58 allegations of misconduct were filed at each airport in 2015, with 35 percent of airports experiencing an increase in the number of allegations over those two years.

In fairness, not every airport saw even one allegation. The number of complaints nationwide ranged from 0 to nearly 1,400, with the nation's largest airports experiencing higher rates of conduct violations.

There have been efforts to reverse the trend. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended in 2013 that the agency create a misconduct review process and put investigation procedures for misconduct allegations in place. The TSA said they were implementing these recommendations, but data suggest it did little good. One reason for the rise in incidents of misconduct, according to the report, was the TSA's failure to rigorously comply with the new policies.

The GAO's recommendation came after their report showing misconduct by employees increased by almost 27 percent between 2010 and 2012.

The data also show the TSA investigated fewer complaints as more were filed. The number of investigations that the agency opened decreased by 15 percent from 2013 to 2015. Only 6 percent of total misconduct allegations were investigated in 2013 vs. 4 percent in 2015.

The report then goes on to blame the TSA's bureaucratic structure, which tasks multiple disparate parties with investigating allegations (as you can see below). 

||| House Homeland Security Committee
House Homeland Security Committee

In order to deal with these problems, the Homeland Security Committee recommends that the TSA name "a senior executive to be responsible for overseeing the misconduct process" and that that person issue a department-wide misconduct policy.

But given that the agency already got a set of government recommendations a few years ago and failed to implement them, one has to wonder if these policies will actually do anything substantive to make air travel safer. As Reason's Ronald Bailey wrote in May, the TSA has a history of missing weapons and other allegedly dangerous items during screening. The TSA is also suffering from long lines caused by understaffing, and has had to reach out to the airlines for assistance in dealing with this issue.

It's a shame that nobody is floating the idea of privatizing the process. According to Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, private security services have a proven track record of being both efficient and innovative. "Most airports in Europe and Canada use private companies for their passenger and baggage screening," he wrote in a 2013 policy analysis. "That practice creates a more efficient and innovative security structure, and it allows governments to focus on gathering intelligence and conducting analysis rather than on trying to manage a large workforce."

If you're planning on flying this summer, make sure to watch Reason TV's guide to dealing with the TSA: