Reports of Misconduct Raises Questions about TSA

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WASHINGTON -- Ever since the Transportation Security Administration was created after 9/11 it's had its fair share of public relations problems -- from patting down crying 3-year-olds in wheelchairs to distraught passengers claiming sexual harassment.

Now, there are more problems.

A new government report details poor work habits, including sleeping on the job, not reporting for work, and stealing people's bags.

The misconduct involving TSA employees has increased 26 percent in the last three years. In hearings this week, Congress demanded answers.

"TSA should have no tolerance for such behavior. The American people demand accountability," Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said.

One TSA agent was suspended after trying to carry a relative's bag through security without screening it. Inside: plenty of items that were not allowed.

"Somebody bypasses the screening process; somebody takes a bag around a checkpoint. That's a serious offense. That stuff needs to be immediately corrected," aviation security expert Jeff Price said.

Still, the report shows that just 17 of the agents reported for misconduct are being fired. Nearly half, 47 percent, are only given a letter of reprimand.

Lawmakers say punishments have to be stricter, but TSA officials are pushing back.
 
"A letter of reprimand is not something that should be taken lightly," TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski said. "A letter of reprimand means you're not going to get a bonus that year possibly. You're not going to get promoted. It's going to stay in your jacket. It's a serious thing."

The TSA's problems and its size have been growing for years. It's run by the Department of Homeland Security and when it started 10 years ago in 2002 it had 16,000 employees and a budget of around $1 billion.

Now, the TSA has close to 60,000 employees and the budget is at almost $8 billion.
 
James Carafano, vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, said he doesn't believe that's taxpayer money well spent.

"We built this massive huge expensive bureaucracy after 9/11 because people wanted government security guys when the reality is just a well supervised security work force in the private sector could do just as good of a job," he said.

Despite its growing size, supporters of the TSA say it's trying its best to protect America from terrorist attacks. They point to how they've gotten rid of those controversial scanners that took nude X-ray pictures of travelers.They now say they have devices that show a less intrusive image.

But critics like Carfano say all the complaints are secondary to a larger issue: should a government bureaucracy be handling these security issues?

"I'm sure that a majority of the people working at TSA care about their country and want to do the right thing. But the reality is they don't need to be government employees," Carafano said.

But the government-run TSA seems here to stay, and that means more controversy could well be on the way.

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