How to Fix TSA

Ron Moore

by Ron Moore

Those who believe government should be run like a business are providing a prime example of how that works in TSA. No government agency was set up to function with as little oversight and a top heavy management style as than this one. TSA management mirrored the dominant American business culture with an emphasis on control over quality. The result: demoralized passengers, crews and officers. Now the call is out to profitize, er privatize, our aviation security. Yes that’s right, its time to return to pre-9/11 aviation security provided by the lowest bidder. While it is easy to look at groups behind this latest imbroglio like The Rutherford Institute and see a Tea Party type movement in the works, the fact remains that some things simply need to be out of reach for the private sector and the TSA experiment proves that national security is one such area.

Six years ago during a previous pat-down controversy I wrote an op-ed piece that was published in The Washington Post. My suggestion was simple; more training and actual oversight by Congress. I also reminded passengers that they have a right to proper treatment and rather than complain after the fact ask to speak with a supervisor who can take corrective action be it clear information about the process or an opportunity for the officer to improve so the next passenger doesn’t have the same experience.  What was TSA’s response? I was terminated.

I was a part of the first group of locally hired screeners, now called Transportation Security Officers, in 2002 at Baltimore Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. I was also the founding President of AFGE Local 1, the national union supported by the members of the American Federation of Government Employees doing their level best to improve TSA whose officers are not permitted collective bargaining rights.

Collective bargaining rights matter because personnel matters. The record high attrition rate caused by the dysfunctional TSA workplace means a virtual brain drain as nearly all the original TSO’s have fled. That doesn’t mean that many fine TSO’s don’t continue to serve and good people are not hired. What it means is that while TSA Headquarters shuffles people in decision making positions through the revolving door to TSA contractors, experienced TSO’s are left out in the cold when it comes to running the Agency. In fact, experience matters and it is that experience that seems to work against TSO’s when it comes to opportunities to advance. First because the TSA management culture prizes quality of relationship to management over performance and second because the high attrition rate means that promoting an outstanding TSO hurts the checkpoint.

TSA security policy is contained in the Standard Operating Procedures, meaning that if a passenger alarms at the walk through metal detector the TSO’s response is dictated by policy not individual biases or preference. In other words, a TSO can’t make an exception even for other TSO’s. An alarm is an alarm and unusual circumstances are referred to the supervisor. Collective bargaining is in effect SOP for the workplace. It defines how personnel, not security policy by the way, are managed and when a dispute arises a higher authority is called in. It removes the personal biases of the individual managers from the decision making process and encourages excellence. Collective bargaining allows managers to ensure the best security possible as opposed to the current system that virtually allows each airport to create its own personnel rules. It also empowers tens of thousands of TSO’s to speak out in an appropriate way without fear of facing the reprisal I suffered.

President Obama failed and its time to own up to that failure. He promised in writing as candidate Obama to allow TSO’s the right to collective bargaining. He had the power to direct the TSA Acting Administrator at that time to change the policy; instead he punted and placed the responsibility on his new Administrator.  This allowed Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) to simply prevent TSA from improving by standing at the TSA Headquarters door and not allowing a new Administrator to be installed. DeMint even suggested that a union card is a sign of disloyalty and a threat to national security. DeMint and his staff are protected by officers who have collective bargaining rights and the first responders running into the Twin Towers on 9/11 with union cards in their pockets didn’t stop to call their union before responding. It’s an outrage but Obama allowed it.

It’s time to start over. Admit that TSA as managed is a mess. Convene a blue ribbon commission comprised of stakeholders from the airlines, airports, crew unions, current and former TSO’s and other law enforcement union leaders to remake TSA as a government agency that is managed to meet the security needs of those traveling through U.S. airports. Government workers should answer only to the taxpayers not shareholders. This is no time to allow politicians and pundits to demagogue national security or the go along to get along attitude of the current administration. This isn’t just about safety it’s about competence. We can do better and have the failed TSA management model to show us the wrong way. The mission of TSA is too big to be allowed to continue to fail.

Ron Moore is a freelance writer living in Silver Spring, Maryland with decades of service in the grassroots community as a local union president, union organizer, national AFL-CIO staff, and writer for the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Contact Ron at
He writes regularly at the Examiner.


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