TSA Works to Combat Turnover

Security screeners at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) report some of the lowest job satisfaction scores in the federal government. The agency maintains some of the highest turnover rates and, as a newly released report concludes, requires a full transformation of human capital policies in order to reverse course without significant damage to airport security.

John Kelly, Acting Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, recently testified that attrition rates, particularly in smaller airports, were notably high. Kelly also noted that retention and training challenges contributed to airport security weaknesses.

According to the report from Kelly, in fiscal year 2017, TSA spent $75 million on training more than 9,000 new security officers, about 20 percent of whom left within six months of being hired.

A Blue Ribbon Panel on TSA human capital policy also reported this month that issues within the TSA Human Capital Office (OHC) were significant.

“The OHC suffers from a lack of teamwork and leadership challenges. Interviews with customers, stakeholders, and OHC staff make clear that human capital programs are not designed in the context of a cohesive strategy. OHC customers gave negative feedback on key programs, particularly human capital information technology systems, classification and position management, and hiring and pay, with a few bright spots in employee relations and training,” the report notes. “OHC leaders consistently reported a culture where cooperation across OHC organizations was lacking and peer relationships are poor.”

Employees also reported favoritism, being unpaid, and a lack of correlation between pay and performance.

The report notes, “These officers work long hours, have difficult working conditions, and are the backbone of the TSA mission. By some measures, TSO annual pay in some locations lags well behind industry counterparts. TSO perceptions regarding inequity in their pay are aggravated by the fact that their pay averages about one-third of that of TSA employees in Management, Administration and Professional (MAP) positions.”

According to a statement released by TSA this week, the agency has already begun implementing recommendations from this report.

Particularly, the agency has launched a review of current hiring processes, pay, advancement policies and practices, administrative functions and leadership, and supervisor practices as well as a review of human capital information technology systems, job classifications and position management, hiring and pay, employee relations and training, contractor support, and Human Capital field support.

One lawmaker, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), has introduced legislation that would add TSA employees to Title 5, providing them with collective bargaining rights and additional employee protections provided to other federal employees. It would also include their jobs in the General Schedule.

American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox praised this plan as a temporary fix, saying, “Put them on the general schedule until we figure out something better.” Cox believes placing them under the general schedule would improve and make pay more consistent.

The Blue Ribbon Panel did not endorse this plan, saying in their report, “One recommendation the Panel heard repeatedly from employees was moving TSA into the General Schedule (GS). The Panel does not agree. The General Schedule is a 70-year-old classification and compensation system from the last century and is the subject of countless studies and recommendations from good government organizations who consistently find it is too inflexible to meet the needs of the 21st century workforce. A better course of action is to use existing [Aviation and Transportation Security Act] flexibility to improve the TSA pay system so that it operates at a level superior to the GS system.”

As the agency considers these recommendation, TSA Administrator David Pekoske has expressed hope that this will be a turning point for the agency.

“This marks an important milestone for TSA as we seek to make the agency a better place to work,” said Pekoske. “We’re not looking backwards or placing blame. This report will give us what we need to improve, and I want to thank our frontline personnel for giving us the feedback we need for some long overdue advancements.”

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