TSA Is A Bad Employer

Recently, I had a chat with a friend who has been employed for the past 15 years as a Transporation Security Screener for the Department of Homeland Security’s Transporation Security Administration, known as TSA. We hadn’t been in touch for several years so it was great to catch up.

To my surprise, my friend – I’ll call him Bob (not his real name) – told me he was still a lowest-rung Screener who had been passed over for promotion as he saw younger, more recent, hires rise in federal grade and salary.

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What was even more shocking was that, after serving to protect the United States citizenry from airport violence through pre-boarding “threat detection” searches for all that time, Bob was still earning a salary equivalent to less than $20/hour (about $40,000/year).

To understand how these wages – which seemed low to me for the nature of the job duties required of these positions of public trust – I found 16 jobs that paid $40,000 in 2014 from job-hunting web service CareerBuilder. Bear in mind that Bob started working for TSA in 2004 and, in 2020, is still earning under $40,000 a year when you review a few of them:

Correctional Officer

Job description: Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in a jail, reformatory or prison.

Typical education level: High school diploma or equivalent

Median annual pay: $39,020

Surgical technologist

Job description: Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, assist in surgical operations. They prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment and help doctors and nurses during surgeries.

Typical education level: Postsecondary nondegree award

Median annual pay: $39,920

Construction Equipment Operator

Job description: Construction equipment operators drive, maneuver or control the heavy machinery used to construct roads, bridges, buildings and other structures.

Typical education level: High school diploma or equivalent

Median annual pay: $39,460

The first job, Correctional Officer, was the closest to a transportation security officer. Both construction equipment operators and correctional officers need only a high school diploma to earn this salary. I know Bob has a Bachelors’s degree so shouldn’t he be worth more?

I asked Bob how his pay situation could be possible since it was my understanding that government employees get annual minimum pay increases? He replied that there had been no raises in four of those years due to federal government shutdowns since 2013.

Bob is only a few years away from his retirement from federal service. He plans to hang in there and will probably exit the organization with the same federal job grade (level, hence pay) he had at his entry.

Many TSA employees have told me over the years that the organization is a pork-belly boondoggle that started out rotten and hasn’t gotten any better. Management plays favorites and disdains the screeners who are considered “trained monkeys” – a remark overheard from one strolling manager to another by a screener walking behind them. Employees are not allowed to unionize and didn’t have an official ombudsman for the first two years of operations.

Importantly, TSA officers are civilian employees who are made to swear a legal agreement not to contact the media about any grievances or questionable practices. Whistleblowing is against TSA rules in the name of “national security” to fight the “War on Terror.” This explains why the general public has no idea what’s going on within this unsavory federal security agency.

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act was enacted in November 2001, two months after 9/11. The national safety organization came up short after an audit conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) titled “TSA Needs to Improve Efforts to Retain, Hire, and Train Its Transportation Security Officers,” which came out on March 28, 2019.

The federal auditors made nine recommendations to keep staff longer because “TSA needs to better address its retention challenges because it currently does not share and leverage results of TSO exit surveys and does not always convey job expectations to new-hires.”

#4 was “We recommend the Assistant Administrator, Human Capital [people employed], meet established timelines to implement the first phase of Career Progression for newly appointed entry-level Transportation Security Officers.”

“Career Progression” means grade elevations and recognitions for merit and time served in good standing. This leads us to Recommendation 5:

“We recommend the Assistant Administrator, Human Capital, examine increases in pay based upon skill level for Transportation Security Officers that could help attract and retain a strong workforce.”

Bob would certainly love to get some recognition for his years of dedicated toil – and (in my humble opinion) he should get a couple of raises and perhaps an official Administration apology for the oversight. Also, I’m pretty sure my pal is not alone. How many other TSA agents and officers out there are getting less than they deserve?

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