TSA Investigating Allegations Of "Fear And Intimidation"
Complaints by security
workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport have prompted an
investigation by the TSA, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.
A letter and petition, signed by 206 of the airport's 1,100 TSA
employees, claimed that managers have created a culture of "fear
and intimidation" that has led to high turnover and hindered
efforts to maintain security.
The employees called for an investigation into top management,
The Times reported Sunday. They sent the letter and petition in
December to the TSA, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, several
federal inspectors general, Washington's congressional delegation
and Gov. Gary Locke.
Field inspectors have been dispatched and began meeting with
employees yesterday, The Times reported, citing internal memos.
"An investigation such as this should serve to clear the air,"
Bob Blunk, TSA's federal security director at Sea-Tac, wrote in one
of the memos.
Working conditions at Sea-Tac lead to stress, disorganization
and weaker security for the public, screeners and supervisors
said. Although they signed their names to the petition and
called for federal and state whistle-blower protection in their
letter, the screeners and supervisors who spoke with The Times
asked not to be identified for fear of being fired.
Blunk told The Times that he has copies of the letter, but not
of the petition and signatures. He said he was not surprised that
employees are unhappy.
"They want things to be better," he said. "They want to be in a
place where they can work hard and be happy."
A request for comment from TSA headquarters was referred to the
Homeland Security Department, which referred the request back to
TSA headquarters, the newspaper said.
In their letter, employees said:
- Managers enforce
classified security procedures inconsistently, increasing security
risks. For example, some managers make screeners ask travelers to
take off their shoes, while others do not.
- Managers and supervisors lack training, resulting in personnel
problems and employee intimidation.
- Uncoordinated scheduling has led to excessive mandatory
overtime and high turnover.
- Some employees have been promoted inappropriately. One manager
allegedly accepted $300 apiece from at least two midlevel
supervisors to write key portions of their applications, an
official familiar with the investigation and employees interviewed
by investigators told The Times.
Blunk told the newspaper that investigators have been looking
into that manager's activities. He also has met with screeners
partly because of concerns raised in the letter.
Blunk said staff turnover is now 15.5%. That's above the
national turnover rate of 13.6%, he said. In August, TSA reported
that turnover was 9.5% at Sea-Tac and about 6% nationally.
Screeners said turnover has meant staff shortages and long lines
some days. One screener said carry-on bags randomly selected for
searches sometimes are not examined thoroughly.
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, has directed his Seattle staff to
invite airport screeners to share their concerns.
"We will take the appropriate follow-up steps, including talking
with TSA directly," McDermott said in a statement.
Once investigators are finished, they will send their report to
TSA's Aviation Operations office, which oversees airport
operations, Blunk said.