Watchdog report: People are really unhappy working for TSA

Unclear advancement opportunities, low pay and poor management have pushed Transportation Security Administration officers to leave their jobs, a recently released government watchdog report said.

The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security reviewed exit surveys from outgoing security officers and said “common themes” from the surveys included “dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities and issues with management’s competence and communication.”

“The most commonly selected reason for leaving TSA was dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities and processes,” the summary of exit interview findings said.

TSA requests that outgoing employees take a voluntary exit survey, but, according to the inspector general, TSA “does not fully analyze” those surveys.

The report said the complaint about career advancement applied to both full- and part-time employees. Likewise, both full- and part-time employees commonly cited dissatisfaction with management — including incompetence, poor communication and disrespect by supervisors — along with broad complaints about low pay.

“Almost three-quarters of those who completed the voluntary exit surveys said the new job would pay more,” the report said.

Full-time employees also commonly cited complaints about senior TSA leadership, while part-time employees commonly cited dissatisfaction with scheduling.

While the report said TSA faced retention issues at airports of all sizes, it noted that at small airports — some with as few as four officers — security officers leave at higher rates.

“For example, at one airport, officials indicated that a local retail store offered comparable salaries to TSOs,” the report said. “Additionally, one TSA official reported that a sandwich shop chain offered a higher salary than an entry-level TSO.”

The report said TSA had accepted all nine of the inspector general’s recommendations to target the staffing issues and had taken satisfactory steps to meet three of them. Among the recommendations left open in the report were steps geared at improving the hiring process, improving and utilizing exit interviews and having TSA “examine increases in pay based upon skill level for Transportation Security Officers that could help attract and retain a strong workforce.”

TSA chief David Pekoske was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon, where he praised his workforce for working without pay through the recent partial government shutdown and committed in his written testimony to “look at various options under the broad scope of TSA’s authorities to demonstrate our commitment to the workforce, reward high performers, reduce turnover, and improve employee morale.”

Asked at a House Appropriations Committee hearing about issues with retaining security officers, Pekoske said TSA attrition rates are “too high” and outlined actions the agency had taken to try to fix the issue, including establishing a “career progression plan” and appointing a panel to review TSA management of “human capital.”

The report said that over the 2016-2017 budgetary years, TSA had hired “more than 19,300 TSOs, yet lost more than 15,500 during this same period.”

“TSA spends millions annually to hire and train new TSOs to replace those who leave the agency,” the inspector general said.

The inspector general argued further that the retention and training issues for security officers at TSA were “contributing factors to airport security weaknesses.”