DIA security screeners say managers distract from duty

By Deborah Sherman
9News
Posted: 04/05/2009 12:30:00 AM MDT


Some security screeners at Denver International Airport say they're harassed, threatened and bullied by their managers so often during work, they have trouble focusing on screening passengers and luggage.

"If their minds aren't totally on their job because they're worried about management, they're worried about what managers are doing, lives are at stake," John Noble told 9News.

Noble worked as a lead screener at DIA until he was fired last year.

"What I don't miss is going to work and having a target on my back every single day. And when I say every day, I mean every day," Noble said.

Noble has a current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the agency citing discrimination and harassment.

An internal report from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Denver obtained by 9News says more than 20 current and former screeners have made similar complaints.

The report finds that screeners think the management and leadership teams in Denver are "retaliatory," "inconsistent," "lack integrity" and "antagonist."

Screeners have "lost faith" in their leaders' ability to manage the security agency at DIA, according to the report.

"It's already a stressful job, and we also don't need to be terrorized from the inside," said Pam Helsper, a former supervisor for the TSA.

Helsper, who was a supervisor for four years, says that after she filed a formal complaint, managers made false accusations against her until she left.

"They're very patient. If it takes them six months, two years, eventually they get you," Helsper said.

The current federal security director in Denver is Bill Allen, and the deputy director is Al Myers. They refused to answer questions about morale or the allegations made about their agency.

TSA spokesperson Andrea McCauley also declined to make anyone available to talk about its morale and attrition problem but said TSA has lots of ways employees can file complaints.

"TSA has multiple venues in which an employee can file a grievance and seek resolution," McCauley said in a statement. "TSA Denver employs over 850 staff members, and in 2008 the ombudsman's office received no workplace complaints concerning harassment and discrimination."

A Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report in May 2008 shows the problems may be nationwide.

"TSA employees . . . have criticized the agency for discrimination, selective hiring practices, nepotism, management misconduct and other questionable activities," according to the inspector general.

As a result, the report found low morale "could adversely affect the effectiveness of TSA's security screening function."

The attrition rate in Denver was 16.6 percent in 2008; nationally the TSA attrition rate was 19.1 percent.

"I don't know how anybody could not be impacted working a stressful environment like that with all of these other issues going on," aviation security consultant Jeff Price said. "These people have an extraordinarily important job. We need their attention on our luggage, we need their attention on people coming through the checkpoint, and we need them to be better."

Screeners failed to find a knife taped on an ankle and an explosive taped to a person's back under a heat pack worn by federal security testers when they went through screening in the south checkpoint at DIA in January, according to multiple sources.

The mistakes were human errors, and two screeners were decertified on the spot, according to sources. The TSA won't confirm the test results because it's classified information. TSA DIA screeners also failed to find improvised explosive devices smuggled behind security by testers in 2007.

The internal report at DIA offered solutions and resolutions to the multiple morale and management problems. However, employees say they don't believe that any of the solutions were ever implemented at DIA. The report cost more than $60,000.


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