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Employee conduct making TSA’s ‘shattered public image’ even worse

By Jamie Goldberg, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — The Transportation Security Administration suffers from an image problem, and recent criminal and negligent behavior by airport screeners has made matters worse.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation subcommittee, highlighted the agency’s troubles at a hearing Wednesday. “Stealing from checked luggage, accepting bribes from drug smugglers, sleeping or drinking while on duty — this kind of criminal behavior and negligence has contributed significantly to TSA’s shattered public image,” the Alabama Republican said.

Yet Rogers, who has criticized TSA in the past for not appropriately disciplining employee misconduct, said he was optimistic about its progress. He responded positively when told the TSA had started immediately firing employees caught stealing, using drugs or failing to screen passengers and luggage.

“That’s a new development. I’m glad to hear that,” Rogers said.

The administration has been under severe congressional scrutiny this year for everything from patting down children and the elderly to wasting money on unused screening equipment.

John Halinski, the new deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, pointed to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of misconduct, as an important part of holding employees responsible for their actions.

But a number of incidents in recent months have diminished public confidence in the TSA. Eight TSA screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport were fired for violations that included sleeping on the job; five screeners at Southwest Florida International Airport were let go for failing to perform required random screenings; and eight federal air marshals were dismissed for drinking at work.

Last week, two TSA screeners pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges after they accepted bribes to help smugglers get drugs through security at Los Angeles International Airport.

“If you have an organization of 60,000 people, that’s like a city — you’re always going to have crime in a city, you’re always going to have people in a city who don’t do things that are proper and make mistakes,” Halinski said.

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