The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General recently released a report that confirms what our union has been saying all along – that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) needs to change the way it treats and pays employees if it wants to keep them. That’s why our union has worked with members of Congress to get legislation introduced in both the House and Senate that would extend Title 5 rights to Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), addressing many of the issues TSOs have with low pay and lack of rights at work.
The 35-day government shutdown showed how important TSA officers are to the safety and security of air travelers. Airlines simply cannot operate without them. Without TSA officers on the job, the lives of passengers and airline employees are put at tremendous risk. TSA, however, can’t seem to keep them.
According to the IG report released March 28, TSA hired more than 19,300 TSOs during fiscal years 2016 and 2017, but it lost more than 15,500 during the same period.
The average cost for hiring and training one TSO is $8,500. TSA spends tens of millions annually to hire and train new TSOs who leave the agency. The fact that TSA can’t retain these employees should be a cause for concern. Not only is the agency wasting taxpayer dollars, but it also puts the flying public at risk – high turnovers and staffing shortages directly affect airport security.
According to the IG, TSA has exit interviews with officers, but the agency is not proactively sharing results with individual airports even though that would improve retention. Airports themselves do not consistently conduct exit interviews when a TSO leaves.
In the report, the IG cited our union, AFGE, by name when it discussed the impact of staffing shortages and excessive use of overtime on high turnover.
“According to an April 2018 congressional testimony by the National President for the American Federation of Government Employees, TSA’s failure to adequately staff checkpoints and baggage screening areas leads to overworked officers and less security for the flying public,” the IG said. “In our opinion, excessive use of overtime, which could be mitigated by competitive salaries and adequate staffing levels, could also result in lower job satisfaction and morale, therefore higher turnover.
According to the IG, which cited TSA exit survey responses, there are six reasons why TSOs leave the agency, often within the first six months. As our union has been saying all along, the current personnel system at TSA doesn’t work. Congress needs to immediately pass H.R. 1140 and S.944 that would (1) give these officers the Title 5 workplace rights enjoyed by most federal employees at other agencies and (2) place them on the General Schedule pay scale so that they are fairly compensated with advancement opportunities.
Here are the six reasons why TSA has not been able to retain officers despite spending tens of millions of dollars a year hiring them.
1. A lack of career advancement opportunities
TSOs are not happy with a lack of opportunities for advancement, unfair promotion process, and very few training opportunities. This is a direct result of TSA choosing not to be under Title 5, but to set its own terms and conditions of employments.
2. Bad managers
TSOs cite bad supervisors as a top reason for leaving TSA. Specific reasons include managers’ incompetence, poor communication, promotion of negative work environment, disrespect, lack of trust, lack of appreciation or recognition, unfair evaluations, unfair promotions, and unfair disciplinary actions.
3. Nontraditional scheduling
TSOs do not work 9 to 5 like most people do. They work night shifts and early morning shifts. Because of high turnovers and staffing shortages, they also work overtime, often excessively at some airports. The IG pointed out that TSA has failed to communicate job expectations to applicants. As a result, they leave shortly after starting because they do not fully understand scheduling demands or daily tasks of the job.
4. Pay is not competitive
Despite the important work they do protecting the flying public, frontline TSOs are the lowest paid employees within TSA and among the lowest paid employees in the federal government. TSOs report that local retail and food stores offer comparable or better salaries.
This is exactly why our union supports a bill that would put TSOs on the GS pay scale.
5. Senior leadership
TSOs are not happy with senior leadership’s lack of communication and appreciation. They also have trust and respect issues with senior leadership.
6. Personal reasons
TSA officers leave for personal reasons too, but these reasons are often related to work. For example, officers leave because they need a full-time job. That’s because TSA often hires more part-time than full-time employees. In 2017, for example, TSA hired 6,611 part-time TSOs and 2,991 full-time TSOs. Part-time employees have far fewer rights and benefits than full-time employees do, not to mention lower pay.
What we need to do
Tell your members of Congress to co-sponsor and pass H.R. 1140, introduced by Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) and Nita Lowey (D-New York) in the House, and S. 944 introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in the Senate. These bills would lift the agency’s dismally-low employee morale and decrease the high turnover rate for officers.
Here are the numbers to call:
Please make sure you are not on government time or using government equipment (your work email or cell phone) when contacting your lawmaker.