(WASHINGTON)—Representing Transportation Security Administration employees across the nation, American Federation of Government Employees National President John Gage testified Nov. 1 before the House Homeland Security Committee Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection on the need for enhanced training and technology, among other issues.
“TSA has made many critical decisions that have created or exacerbated obstacles to the ability of Transportation Security Officers to carry out their duties, including the availability and quality of training,” Gage said. “TSOs point to understaffing at airports, the lack of relevance and low quality of training, TSA’s failure to fully invest in new technology, and TSA’s institutional disdain for comments and suggestions from TSOs that can help spot and prevent threats to air travel.
“The Aviation Transportation Security Act—under which TSA was created—mandated that TSOs receive 100 hours of classroom and on-the-job training before they begin working, and an average of three hours of training per week after hire,” Gage explained. “The Government Accountability Office described that at least one of the three hours is ‘to be devoted to X-ray image interpretation and the other two hours to screening techniques, review of standard operating procedures, or other mandatory administrative training, such as ethics and privacy act training.’ However, our TSO members have reported that other than the training they received prior to beginning their jobs screening passengers and baggage, TSA has consistently failed to provide the training it is required by law.”
According to a February 2007 GAO report, under TSA’s Staffing Allocation Model “training is relegated to times when there is surplus staffing and should occur during ‘less busy times.’” Rather than construct a model that allows times for TSOs to receive required training and master new operating procedures and technology, training is relegated to whatever time is left—even if that time is none at all, Gage argued.
Gage further went on to discuss TSA’s lack of new technology, stating that “technology that would enable TSOs to detect potential weapons not readily apparent to the human eye is available” and that while “both GAO and the DHS Inspector General have called on TSA to invest in and deploy technology that will assist TSOs in performing their screening duties, just this October, GAO found that TSA ‘generally’ did not achieve the goal of deploying checkpoint technologies to address vulnerabilities.”
Gage also touched upon issues of employee input and value, including a 2006 Federal Human Capital Survey that showed 54% of the TSA workforce stated that creativity and innovation are not rewarded at TSA and only 38% of the workforce believed they had “sufficient resources” to do their jobs.
“Too often TSOs report they were laughed at by supervisors when they requested additional training and speaking up about an alternative process or pointing out a problem was a certain path to retaliation, which could include either actual termination or harassing the worker until they quit,” Gage said.
“For the agency to be successful in its mission of protecting the American public, there must be a true and respectful discourse between TSA management and TSOs. No worker should be hesitant to point out a shortcoming that could impact public safety because they fear retaliation from management, which is a very real threat to the TSO workforce, because TSA refuses to be bound by the Office of Special Counsel’s recommendations when TSOs are retaliated against for blowing the whistle on security breaches. TSOs do not have the right to appeal serious harmful personnel decisions to the Merit Systems Protection Board—even though their managers have that right. As such, AFGE calls on Congress to pass H.R. 3212, a bill introduced by Representative Nita Lowey that would provide TSOs collective bargaining rights and workplace protections and ensure that they are treated the same as other workers at TSA.
“TSA can do much to retain and invest in the current full time TSO workforce by dropping its opposition to collective bargaining rights and labor protections for TSOs, by treating them the same as other workers in DHS and the federal workforce. By restoring fundamental fairness to the workplace and addressing those important work-life issues that are pivotal to workers, including training, TSOs will be able to perform with confidence and learn new skills that could lead to promotions and improve safety.”