Senate Panel Requests Information on Whistleblower Retaliation at TSA

Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, watches as ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asks questions at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., left, watches as ranking member Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asks questions at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The leadership of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is demanding information from the Transportation Security Administration on its efforts to prevent whistleblower retaliation and to promote merit-based decision-making after the agency received poor scores on an annual employee survey.

Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to TSA Administrator David Pekoske asking him to brief committee staff on the agency’s whistleblower protections and to address concerns about personal and political favoritism. They cited the agency’s poor scores on these topics in the Office of Personnel Management’s annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

According to the letter, only 49 percent of TSA employees and only 36 percent of Federal Air Marshal Service employees agreed that they could “disclose a suspected violation of any law, rule or regulation without fear of reprisal.” And only 35 percent of TSA employees and 28 percent of FAMS employees agreed with the statement, “Arbitrary action, personal favoritism and coercion for partisan political purposes are not tolerated.”

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OPM has not publicly released FEVS results for TSA. The agency’s scores are instead incorporated into the results for its parent Homeland Security Department. Committee staffers could not provide additional information about TSA’s FEVS results Friday.

“It is imperative that all federal employees know that they can disclose waste, fraud or abuse, violations of laws, regulations and rules, and dangers to the public without fear of retaliation,” Johnson and McCaskill wrote.

The committee asked TSA for information about any internal assessments by TSA officials to try and determine why employees responded poorly to questions about whistleblower retaliation and favoritism. Senators requested a rundown of the agency’s “current whistleblower reprisal programs,” and they asked what steps agency leadership is taking to hold managers accountable for allegations of retaliation against employees.

TSA spokesman Michael England declined to comment, except to say the agency “will respond to the committee’s letter directly.”

Unlike most other agencies, TSA employees do not enjoy Title 5 civil service protections. That means they do not have expanded collective bargaining or due process rights or access to the General Schedule pay scale.

House Democrats introduced a bill in May to include TSA in those agencies covered by Title 5, but that bill has not yet received a hearing. An identical bill (S. 272) introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Senate, also has seen no action.

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