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Transportation Security: TSA Could Strengthen Oversight of Allegations of Employee Misconduct

GAO-13-756T Published: Jul 31, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2013.
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What GAO Found

In July 2013, GAO reported that TSA investigated and adjudicated approximately 9,600 cases of employee misconduct from fiscal years 2010 through 2012, according to TSA employee misconduct data that we analyzed. Two offense categories accounted for about half of all cases--(1) attendance and leave, which accounted for 32 percent; and (2) screening and security, which accounted for 20 percent. Charges for screening and security-related incidents pertain to violating standard operating procedures, including not conducting security or equipment checks, and allowing patrons or baggage to bypass screening. TSA developed a Table of Offenses and Penalties that delineates common employee charges, along with a suggested range of penalties. Of the cases that we analyzed, 47 percent resulted in letters of reprimand, which describe unacceptable conduct that is the basis for a disciplinary action; 31 percent resulted in suspensions of a definite duration; and 17 percent resulted in the employee's removal from TSA. The remaining cases covered a variety of outcomes, including suspensions of an indefinite duration.

In the July 2013 report, GAO found that TSA has taken steps to help manage the investigations and adjudications process, such as creating OPR in 2010 to provide greater consistency in misconduct penalty determinations and providing training for TSA staff at airports responsible for investigating and adjudicating allegations of employee misconduct. While TSA has taken these steps, GAO reported weaknesses in four areas related to monitoring of employee misconduct cases: (1) verifying that TSA staff at airports comply with policies and procedures for adjudicating misconduct, (2) recording case information on all adjudication decisions, (3) tracking the time taken to complete all phases of the investigations and adjudications process, and (4) identifying allegations not adjudicated by the agency.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the findings of GAO's report issued yesterday assessing the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) efforts to address employee misconduct. TSA employs approximately 56,000 transportation security officers (TSO) and other TSA personnel to ensure the security of the traveling public at more than 450 TSA-regulated airports nationwide. News stories in recent years have highlighted several high-profile allegations of misconduct by TSA employees, including TSOs being involved in theft and drug-smuggling activities, as well as circumventing mandatory screening procedures for passengers and baggage. For example, in 2011, a TSO at the Orlando International Airport pleaded guilty to federal charges of embezzlement and theft for stealing more than 80 laptop computers and other electronic devices, valued at $80,000, from passenger luggage. TSOs engaging in misconduct raise security concerns because these employees are charged with helping to ensure the security of our nation's aviation system.

The process of addressing TSA employee misconduct involves various components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For example, depending on the facts and circumstances of a case, the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), TSA Office of Inspection (OOI), or TSA Office of Security Operations (OSO) may conduct an investigation into allegations of TSA employee misconduct. OSO generally adjudicates cases at airports--that is, determines whether the evidence is sufficient to propose and sustain a charge of misconduct and determines the appropriate penalty. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), an independent office that TSA established in 2010 to provide greater consistency in misconduct penalty determinations, adjudicates a more specialized set of cases, such as misconduct involving senior-level TSA employees at airports and other locations. The testimony this morning will address the key findings from the report on TSA's efforts to address employee misconduct that we issued yesterday. Specifically, like the report, the statement will address (1) data on TSA employee misconduct cases and (2) TSA efforts to manage and oversee the investigations and adjudications process.

For more information contact Steve Lord at (202) 512-4379 or

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AccountabilityAirport securityAirportsBaggageEmbezzlementFraudHomeland securityInvestigations by federal agenciesJudicial remediesPersonnel recordsPublic relationsTransportation security