The recent proposed termination and suspension of several Honolulu International Airport Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees has stirred up scrutiny of airport security and raised questions of necessity, privacy, and effectiveness.
On June 10, 2011, 36 Honolulu International Airport TSA workers were given termination notices and another 12 were suspended. A six-month TSA-run investigation found that the TSA officers failed to properly screen bags, one of the major responsibilities and purposes of their job. Fortunately, no passengers in the six-month time period actually threatened the security of departing flights. However, the fact that bags passed through without undergoing thorough screening and explosives checks has refueled debates about government-controlled airport security.
Is the TSA necessary?
The recent discovery of some transportation security officers’ carelessness has many questioning the necessity and effectiveness of TSA operations. In spite of the TSA workers failure to conduct consistent screenings and explosives checks, there were no actual incidents reported during the six-month period. Some folks cite this fact as proof that current large-scale TSA operations are unnecessary and wasteful.
The salaries of TSA employees are paid largely by taxpayers. And with 750 TSA employees in Honolulu alone, some argue that this is an unfairly large bill for taxpayers to foot, particularly if some workers are not doing their job properly.
The Star Advertiser reported that current training for TSA transportation security officers includes approximately 40 hours of class time, up to 60 hours of on-the-job training, and three hours of additional training per week. Could more rigorous application and training processes and stricter follow-up lead to more consistent and careful baggage screenings? Or would this increased effort only increase the cost to taxpayers without guarantee of increased security?
Should airport security be privatized?
Airport security currently conducted by the TSA is government-run and regulated. Some, like Reps. John Mica (R-FL) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), say that this fact is actually the root of the problem. In a letter to the acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, these GOP Representatives argued, “The recent proposed firings of a significant number of TSA employees, including members of the TSA’s own leadership team, at Honolulu International Airport (HNL), highlight the conflict that exists when TSA acts as both the operator and the regulator of the aviation screening programs” (source). Reps. Mica and Chaffetz are calling for the investigation of the TSA’s proposed terminations. They are also pushing for more private airport security screenings, insisting that private screenings would be more effective than those conducted and managed by the government alone.
Who is really at fault?
Reps. Mica and Chaffetz might say government-run TSA itself is to blame. Others argue that the airlines themselves should be investigated, as it is the pressure they put on TSA officers that leads to hasty and incomplete screenings.
In a statement of support for the nonsupervisory TSA employees that have been issued notices of proposed termination and suspension, Colleen M. Kelley, President of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), explained, “It is NTEU’s understanding that pressure from airlines and supervisors to ensure that morning international flights departed from Honolulu on time led to the events triggering the investigation and resulting discipline”. In her statement, she also insisted that the recent news “should not be taken as indicative of the behavior and professionalism of the vast majority of TSA officers,” as it was actually “TSA employees that brought these problems forward”.
No matter where the blame is placed, the recent TSA investigation and consequent firings and suspensions have illuminated significant problems that the TSA has a responsibility to address and resolve in a thorough and transparent manner.