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Highlights

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Transportation Security Executive Service (TSES) consists of executive-level staff serving in key agency positions just below political appointees. Committees of Congress have raise questions about the frequency of turnover within the TSES and have directed GAO to examine turnover among TSES staff. Accordingly, this report examines: (1) TSES attrition and how it compares with that of Senior Executive Service (SES) staff in other DHS components and cabinet-level departments, (2) the reasons TSES staff separated from TSA, and (3) TSA efforts to mange TSES attrition consistent with effective management practices. To answer these objectives, GAO analyzed data within the Office of Personnel Management's Central Personnel Data File, reviewed TSA human capital policies and procedures, and interviewed former TSES staff. The results of these interviews are not generalizable, but represent the views of about half the TSES staff who separated from fiscal years 2005 through 2008.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Transportation Security Administration To address attrition among TSES staff and improve management of TSES resources, the TSA Administrator should ensure that the National Exit Survey, or any other exit survey instrument TSA may adopt, can be used to distinguish between responses provided by TSES staff and other staff, so that the agency can determine why TSES staff, in particular, are separating from TSA.
Closed - Implemented
We found that the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) ability to collect data on the reasons Transportation Security Executive Service (TSES) staff left the agency was limited because the agency's National Exit Survey, a tool for collecting information on the reasons for staff separation, did not allow separating executives to identify themselves as TSES-level staff. Thus, we recommended that TSA enable TSES staff to identify their level of employment when completing the survey. In March 2010, TSA's Office of Human Capital updated the National Exit Survey instrument to include "TSES" among its pre-set list of position titles to allow for the collection of data specific to TSES staff taking the survey. This amendment was consistent with our recommendation.
Transportation Security Administration To address attrition among TSES staff and improve management of TSES resources, the TSA Administrator should require that TSA officials involved in the staffing process for TSES staff fully document how they applied each of the merit staffing principles required by TSA when evaluating, qualifying, and selecting individuals to fill career TSES positions.
Closed - Implemented
We reviewed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staffing folders for hiring Transportation Security Executive Service (TSES) staff and found that documentation of merit staffing procedures was not complete. We recommended that TSA officials involved in the staffing process of TSES staff fully document how they applied each of the merit staffing principles required by TSA when evaluating, qualifying, and selecting individuals to fill career TSES positions. In August 2010, TSA submitted (and GAO reviewed) the results of two internal audits of staffing folders to close this recommendation. Given that several corrective actions were identified as a result of these audits, we determined that more time was needed to assess whether underlying personnel policies and procedures were being consistently applied. The recommendation remained open. In December 2011, we requested the results of additional audits, and TSA provided documentation of another audit. Although TSA's initial plans for addressing our recommendation called for more frequent audits, TSA confirmed that the audits of TSES staffing folders we received--dated June 2, 2010, July 2, 2010, and March 2, 2011--represented all audits conducted and covered all open TSES positions for the period. We analyzed the results of the audits, and found that, with each successive audit, there was a decrease in the percentage of staffing folders requiring corrective actions (for example, in June 2010, three-fourths of staffing folders required corrective actions, and in March 2011 one-fourth required corrective actions). Given these results, we determined that TSA's personnel policies and procedures for hiring TSES staff were being more consistently applied by TSA officials involved in the staffing process. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

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