Ex-TSA officer: “Every new controversy breaks down morale further”

By | December 4th, 2010

Ron Moore is a former Transportation Security Administration officer at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and whistleblower who has called for better Congressional oversight and training for federal screeners. With some of the busiest air travel days of the year still ahead of us, and with the TSA continuing to insist body scans or pat-downs are necessary, I wanted to know what he thought. Here’s our interview.

So what did you think of Opt-Out Day?

When I discovered that The Rutherford Institute was filing suit on behalf of the pilot who refused to go through screening, then a larger movement evolved, it seemed fishy.

Since the early days, TSA was a target for private firms with the help of Rep. Mica of Florida in particular and this looked like an attempt to move the ball forward in that direction.

It has been a media firestorm more than an airport firestorm. TSA policy will not change one bit if private firms are paid to staff the checkpoints. I think TSA always poorly rolls out new policies as virtually no one at headquarters has worked a checkpoint.

That doesn’t mean that passengers shouldn’t ask questions and TSA shouldn’t be accountable, but the media narrative didn’t match the reality in my opinion.

What’s the reality, then?

The response to this on the checkpoints is minimal compared to the day we began taking away liquids.

Not a day goes by when someone isn’t upset over something and Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) feel caught in the middle. They cringe when a TSO does a poor job and realize it reflects on everyone.

Related story:   When contraband prowls round the cabin

Pat-downs are not comfortable for the TSO but there is a very specific right way to do the job and TSA’s staffing problems mean less training and preparation.

It should be noted that there are two kinds of passengers: experienced and inexperienced. When a passenger who flies rarely comes in loaded for bear, thanks to media reports they are quick to complain although too often they complain to others after the fact not on the checkpoint.

Some TSA agents have reportedly spoken out about the new security procedures. Does this reflect what your former colleagues are telling you?

No. I will say that a TSO can screen a thousand passengers and the five who are disrespectful stick with you. Those who disrespect TSOs would likely make comments regardless.

This media narrative just gives them the new script. This is nothing new in terms of morale.

How is morale?

Morale is extremely low and turnover is extremely high simply because TSOs enforce very strict rules yet work in a workplace with virtually no rules or rights. That may sound like union talk, but TSOs are treated as if they are in the military and have to follow orders even for things such as going to the bathroom.

Every new controversy breaks down morale further since TSOs can’t escape the media reports while off duty. By the way, I hear from TSOs nationwide not just BWI. I want to make that point clear so those who were close colleagues are not singled out as sources and face retaliation by TSA management.

Related story:   Don't eat that!