TSA officers’ job is to protect lives, and they have been successful since the creation of the agency in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks. But there is no shortage of companies looking for juicy contracts and politicians who love to chastise the officers and push airports to return to the pre-9/11 era.
We must not forget that it was the use of private screeners that led to the deaths of 3,000 people on American soil and the subsequent creation of TSA to prevent future tragedies.
Airport screening has improved tremendously since 9/11 when airport security was in the hands of for-profit companies who benefited from hiring employees with low pay, little training, and high turnover. But if we are going to keep up with ever-changing threats, we need to invest in the men and women who carry out this important task. And that means adequately staffing airports and treating the officers fairly, not handing over national security to private firms whose bottom line is profit.
Most have no idea what it’s like to be a TSA officer. Here are some little-known facts about these men and women who take the oath of office to protect us all.
1. A large number of TSA officers joined TSA right after 9/11 because they wanted to keep America safe. Many are veterans.
2. Despite the critical role TSA officers play in preventing terrorism, they are among the lowest-paid federal employees, making $34,000 a year on average. Their pay system is inconsistent, confusing, and very subjective.
3. When an airport is understaffed, the officers are under pressure to screen as many passengers as quickly as possible. Understaffing is caused by TSA’s failure to hire enough people and Congress’ continued diversion of the security fee to help with deficit reduction instead of funding adequate staffing levels.
4. TSA officers are the face of TSA and are more likely to face verbal and physical abuses from passengers who are angry with TSA policies, which they have no part in creating.
5. They have few workplace rights and protections. On top of the stress from their job, TSA officers face discrimination and retaliation with limited channels to pursue justice. These brave men and women are trying to change that.
6. TSA managers have more workplace rights than frontline TSA officers do.
7. TSA officers are required to pass a rigorous test every year. Not many jobs, both in the public and private sectors, require that.
8. They put their lives on the line every time they put on that uniform and screen bags and passengers. A TSA officer at the Los Angeles International Airport was killed a few years ago when a gunman opened fire targeting TSA officers.
9. Besides the airports, TSA officers provide screening for Amtrak and large public transportation systems such as the Virginia Railway Express. They also provide screening at large public gatherings such as presidential inaugurations and the Super Bowl.