Guest Opinion: Flying the unfriendly skies

The Orange County Register
July 17
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Critics of the stepped-up security presence at American airports since the 9/11 terrorist attacks have always said that while it looks good, it isn’t really making travelers much safer.

Now, more and more, it doesn’t even look good.

After a series of scandals marred the image of the Transportation Security Administration, a congressional committee investigated the TSA’s efforts to head off employee misconduct. The result is a new report from the staff of the House Homeland Security Committee whose title does further wonders for the agency’s reputation: “Misconduct at TSA Threatens the Security of the Flying Public.”

The 29-page report notes that the nation’s largest airports had the highest rates of misconduct by TSA employees in 2015, as well as the steepest increases in misconduct from 2013 to 2015. Los Angeles International is one of those airports, along with Newark (N.J.) International and Boston Logan International.

But this is a problem everywhere, which is troubling because everywhere is where we all fly and where we need security-checkpoint officers to be on the ball.

The eye-popping statistic is a 28.5 percent increase in reported misconduct by TSA workers nationwide from 2013 to 2015, when the annual number of allegations climbed to 17,627, equating to about one for every three full-time employees. That’s on top of a nearly 27 percent increase from 2010 to 2012.

The biggest category of misconduct was “neglect of duty,” which doubled in the two years ending in 2015, to 1,206 incidents nationwide.

Neglect of duty is described as “inattention to duty resulting in a loss of property or life; careless inspection; negligent performance of duties; failure to exercise due diligence in performance of duties; failure to follow procedures.” Another of the eight categories of misconduct that saw increases is “integrity and ethics,” which covers accepting bribes and other criminal conduct.

Try not to think about any of that the next time you watch security officers screen your fellow passengers.

The misconduct in question ranges from salacious (federal air marshals spending government money on hotel rooms for romps with prostitutes) to brazenly criminal (a TSA officer in Oakland, Calif., allegedly helping to smuggle 100 kilograms of marijuana over a two-year period) to downright dangerous (an officer in Orlando, Fla., taking bribes to smuggle Brazilian nationals through a checkpoint without questioning).

The House report says that while allegations of misconduct have been rising, the TSA has taken fewer disciplinary actions against employees. And a faulty disciplinary system contributes to low employee morale.

The picture is of what Homeland Security Committee Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., called the failure of “TSA’s big-government, bureaucratic response” to misconduct.

As the House report says, “Employee misconduct of all types corrupts TSA’s core mission to protect the traveling public and poses serious security vulnerabilities.”

The TSA’s job is to make airline passengers not only feel safer but also actually be safer. Clearly it is not doing that vital job well enough.