A new report released by Republicans in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform shows that no matter how much we hate the TSA, the employees of the agency may loathe it even more. The report describes the TSA as a “toxic” and “abysmal” workplace environment where the culture allows the misconduct of senior officials to go unpunished and where whistleblowers are faced with either retaliation or involuntarily reassignment to other locations.
The committee started its probe back in 2018, reportedly spurred by “credible allegations of wrongdoing”. The report claims that the host of problems that the committee found could be attributable to “low employee morale”.
The low morale is also visible in employee turnover: the TSA has “astronomical attrition rates” that, during the course of the report, were as high as 20% in certain segments. According to a government-wide job satisfaction survey, the TSA is ranked 336 out of 339 agencies and government components.
One senior official investigated in the report is accused of sexually harassing more than one worker. When the supervisor of one of the harassed employees, Mark Livingston, confronted the alleged harasser, he says he was threatened. Of the accused, Livingston said: “[H]e told me if I didn’t lie for him that I was going to be on his ‘S’ list. And then when I told him that I would not lie after he sexually harassed her, he told me that if I didn’t, him and the others couldn’t work with me.”
Reason cited ABC news in stating that the alleged harasser is Joseph Salvator, who is still employed by the agency. His title is “Deputy Director of Security Operations” and in 2016, he was also accused of harassment by Alyssa Bermudez, a former TSA worker, who the Washington Post wrote about in 2016.
Bermudez says she was driven to protest by the allegedly piggish behavior of men with whom she worked at the Transportation Security Administration headquarters across the street. These men ogled her, she claims, snickered about her being in a “harem” because she’s pretty, and retaliated against her when she complained, ultimately stripping her of employment five days before her probationary period ended.
“TSA has a saying: If you see something, say something,” Bermudez, 33, says one afternoon. “Little did I know that when I said something, I would be fighting the agency. It’s a very daunting task.”
In addition, the report found that a TSA employee who was arrested for DWI in 2015 tried to blame another TSA employee who previously drove her car before eventually confessing to the DWI. When the TSA’s office of professional responsibility recommended that she be fired, she was instead given a two-week suspension.
Another instance brought to light in the report was the case of a senior TSA official at a Midwestern airport who reportedly called Muslims “stupid rag heads” and also made “mooing” sounds at another worker who was pregnant. Employees reportedly complained numerous times but the official was still allowed to engage in inappropriate behavior for at least seven years, according to the report.
The same worker was also found to have compared the size of a subordinate employee’s breasts to his daughter.
He admitted to making inappropriate remarks after failing a polygraph test, when he then tried to convince the polygraph examiner that he was being retaliated against for not giving the woman a promotion, the report states.
The report concludes that senior officials were able to get away with such misconduct because whistleblowers and “disfavored employees” were punished with involuntarily directed reassignments, meaning they would sometimes be moved hundreds of miles away to work at different locations. The TSA has since changed this reassignment policy, but not before it was reported to have paid out at least $1 million in settlements to affected workers in the past.
To make matters worse, the TSA then obstructed investigations into the misconduct and retaliation that the report talks about. When the office of special counsel from the Department of Homeland Security attempted to investigate many of these allegations, the TSA wouldn’t release relevant documents or produce documents that weren’t “very heavily redacted”.
And so the next time you’re being groped by a TSA agent at your local airport, just remember, it could always be worse: you could be working with them.
You can read the full report’s findings here.