Holding the Government Accountable

Survey of Airport Screeners Shows Problems at TSA

POGO has recently obtained the full results of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) 2004 Organization Assessment Survey (OAS) through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Survey results from TSA screeners, who are responsible for airport security, reveal widespread dissatisfaction with TSA's management (see "Selected Results from the Surveyed Screeners" below for examples). TSA was created in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks to strengthen airport security. TSA screeners are at the frontline of America's homeland security.

"Every employee in TSA" was "asked to complete the OAS in February 2004," according to a memorandum to TSA employees dated December 4, 2003. The results from the OAS are meant to "assist TSA in evaluating its performance (strengths and weaknesses)."

These results further support the findings of a Office of Personnel Management (OPM) survey administered to the Department of Homeland Security (and other agencies) and reported on by the Oct. 16, 2005 New York Times article, "Study Ranks Homeland Security Dept. Lowest in Morale." That survey showed, for example, that DHS (TSA is located within DHS) employees overwhelmingly did not feel like they were "encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things" or that personnel decisions were "based on merit."

Previously, only the aggregated 6 page "Corporate Snapshots" of the OAS was available, as obtained by Mark Arsenault through FOIA at Screeners Central. Arsenault had run into difficulty in obtaining the full results through FOIA and was presented with a $840 charge to obtain them. Arsenault says that he has promised TSA he will pay the fee three times in the last year, yet TSA has still not released to him the documents that POGO obtained. POGO was also able to obtain a fee waiver for our FOIA request. POGO seems to have run into fewer difficulties with its FOIA request than Mark Arsenault, presumably because of POGO's status as an established organization. TSA should not have arbitrarily determined that Aresnault's efforts were not equally in the public interest.

According to Arsenault, there are "11,000 hand-written comments from screeners who responded to the survey. Those comments would be the most damning evidence of abuse, corruption and mismanagement within the TSA." TSA did not release these comments to either Arsenault or POGO. In TSA's response to POGO's FOIA, TSA says "TSA has no responsive records," however POGO "may wish to contact the Office of Personnel Management which conducted the survey." POGO will file a FOIA with OPM next week to try to obtain them.

Selected Results from the Surveyed Screeners

17,093 TSA screeners returned 2004 TSA Organizational Assessment Survey forms. Of screeners who returned their forms:

  • 66% disagree that "[TSA] Managers provide sufficient resources (for example, time, training, dollars) to promote improvement throughout the organization."
  • 70% disagree that "Managers follow up on employee suggestions for improvements in products, services and work processes."
  • 76% disagree that "Creativity and innovation are rewarded" at TSA.
  • 80% disagree that "Risk-taking is encouraged without fear of punishment for mistakes" at TSA.
  • 53% disagree that "there are well-defined systems for linking customer feedback and complaints to employees who can act on this information."
  • 73% disagree that "Disciplinary actions are applied fairly to employees."
  • 69% disagree that "there is communication among various levels of the [TSA] organization."
  • 80% disagree that "Employees participate in the development of strategic/operational plans."
  • 61% disagree that "Employees are involved in improving the quality of products, services, and work processes."
  • 69% disagree that "Supervisors/team leaders ask for employee's ideas and opinions before making important work decisions."
  • 68% disagree that "Managers provide an environment that supports employee involvement, contributions, and teamwork."
  • 82% disagree that "High performing employees are promoted."
  • 86% disagree that "Pay raises depend on how well employees perform their jobs."
  • 60% rate TSA as "below average" or "one of the worst" organizations compared to other organizations.

TSA screeners were not the only TSA employees surveyed. Here are the results for: