PR disasters are nothing new to America’s least-loved federal agency. But after a particularly bad week, it’s worth paying attention to how the agency reacts when things go horribly wrong.
What it says isn’t just a clue to how the agency feels about itself and air travelers — it can also offer insights into the future of these federal screeners.
Let’s begin in New York, a place some passengers might argue has a reputation to uphold, when it comes to TSA incompetence. I won’t disagree.
On Friday, eight New York-based federal air marshals, including a supervisor, were reportedly terminated by the TSA for allegedly drinking at a restaurant while on duty. Another six were canned because they knew about the incident, but didn’t report it. The whole dustup follows the firings of eight TSA screeners at Newark Liberty International Airport who were accused of sleeping on the job.
Here’s the official TSA response:
TSA holds all of its employees to the highest professional and ethical standards and has zero tolerance for misconduct in the workplace. TSA’s decision to remove the individuals involved in the misconduct affirms our strong commitment to the highest standards of conduct and accountability.
There’s just one thing. That comeback is so recycled, there ought to be a law against it. Most recently, a version of it was used by a TSA official in a congressional hearing.
The earliest use of this prepared statement — the “highest professional and ethical standards” and “zero tolerance” and “accountability” — dates back to 2006, when another TSA honcho used it in (you guessed it) congressional testimony.
And so? Look, the fact that TSA has been feeding us more or less the same line for at least six years can only be interpreted in one way: The agency is giving us a canned answer and has absolutely no intention of changing the way it operates.
But if there are any other interpretations, I’m open to them.
Next up: The remarkable story of the TSA screener and the spilled ashes. John Gross, flying from Orlando to Indiana with his grandfather’s ashes, said a TSA agent violated his dead relative’s dignity when she spilled his remains during a bag check and then, remarkably, laughed the whole thing off. The ashes were clearly labeled as “human remains.”
TSA, what say you?
TSA recognizes the importance of screening human remains with utmost respect and dignity while remaining vigilant of our security mission to protect the traveling public. It is a TSA policy that under no circumstance should a container holding remains be opened.
We have been unable to reach the family to learn more about their perspective on the incident, however, our initial review concluded that the circumstances as described in some reports are inconsistent with what we believe transpired.
That’s a reiteration of TSA’s policy on human remains, which was also restated on its blog on Friday. It’s also nonsense. When the TSA needs to reach you, it will reach you. Believe me, I speak from personal experience.