- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Ahead of a busy summer travel season and amid stepped-up security at U.S. airports in the wake of the Brussels attacks, employees of the Transportation Security Administration say poor leadership and retaliation against those who report problems are undermining security.

The TSA has struggled to revamp security efforts in recent years, with a new administrator appointed last year after checkpoint screeners failed a series of covert tests to detect anomalies and potential security threats.

Despite the leadership style introduced by TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, employees testified before a congressional committee Wednesday that the changes he has made have not ended poor decisions by unqualified supervisors or convinced lower-level employees that they will face no retaliation if they speak out about security issues they encounter.

“While the new administrator of TSA has made security a much-needed priority once again, make no mistake about it: We remain an agency in crisis,” said Jay Brainard, the federal security director at the TSA’s Kansas office of security operations.

Employees who testified at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said they were told to racially profile Somali imams in the Minneapolis area, were being reassigned to positions out of state after reporting security or personnel issues and were seeing falsified reports of airport checkpoint lines to make waits appear shorter.

“No one who reports issues at TSA is safe,” said Mark Livingston, a program manager from the TSA’s office of the chief risk officer.

Mr. Livingston said he was demoted by two pay grades and lost about $10,000 in annual pay after reporting several instances of misconduct by co-workers — including sexual harassment of a female employee, hazing of employees and a series of security violations.

Internal issues within the agency are resulting in tremendous staffing issues that are undermining progress made in other areas, said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and chairman of the oversight committee.

“Currently, the agency is losing — think about this, the numbers are pretty stunning — they’re losing about 103 screeners each week through attrition,” Mr. Chaffetz said.

Airlines have begun to criticize the agency for “unacceptable” delays. This month, American Airlines said TSA delays resulted in almost 6,800 of its passengers missing their flights from March 14-20, at the height of the spring break season.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, said the oversight committee is continuing to investigate complaints by TSA employees but has not received answers from agency leadership about the accusations.

As the committee continues to investigate issues at TSA, officials said, dozens of employees have come forward with similar complaints.

Lawmakers said Wednesday that they have no tolerance for retaliation against employees who try to report problems within the TSA.

“When hardworking rank-and-file men and women are severely punished, yet their managers get off easy, it creates a morale problem,” Mr. Chaffetz said. “And allowing such a culture to fester has a highly detrimental effect on the mission of the agency — keeping the airways safe.”

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