TSA’s 10th Floor
In a recent GAO report #12-264, the DHS and TSA senior leadership vacancy rates were the subject of attention, as they have been almost since the very beginning of both agencies, and through at least five TSA Administrators in just over 10 years. Each successive leader has sought to put his own brand on TSA with structural reorganization, as well as internal departmental desk shuffling and name changing, as if the problems can be resolved by where they sit and what they call it, rather than what they actually do.
Some interesting staffing statistics, according to Rep. John Mica, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure:
- TSA is larger than the Departments of Labor, Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and State, combined.
- Since 2001, TSA staff has grown from 16,500 to over 65,000, a nearly 400% increase, during which time total enplanements in the U.S. have increased less than 12%.
- At TSA headquarters, 30% of employees are supervisors with an average salary over $105,000. Thirteen percent of field employees are supervisors.
- On average, there are 30 TSA administrative personnel – 21 administrative field staff and nine headquarters staff – for each of the 457 airports where TSA operates. One Eastern hub airport has over 100 more TSA employees (whose only job is screening passengers and bags) than the hub has to run its entire 24/7 airport.
- More employees have left TSA than are currently employed at the agency.
Early in the agency’s life, it was well known that in order to staff up quickly, many transfers from other agencies – some with appropriate aviation security experience, many not so much – signed up for the primary purpose of getting their highest-three salary years on the books to boost their retirement. For some, we were happy they signed up for the largest government expansion since WW-II. For others, we have been happy to see them go.
Note that these are SES people – white collar administrative types, not the front line screeners, where one might reasonably expect a high turnover in what can often be a difficult and quite stressful job. Some of DHS’s 22 agencies have had vacancy rates well above 20% since 2006; DHS’ own senior leadership attrition rate at 11.4% seems almost stable in this context.
GAO found that FEMA and TSA had the highest SES vacancy rates, at 20 percent and 19.5 percent, respectively, in fiscal 2011. DHS responded that many job openings were due to retirements and resignations (duh), but it didn’t address why folks are leaving in the first place, or why it’s so hard to re-fill those slots. DHS launched an exit survey in 2010, in which most senior executives surveyed cited three main reasons for leaving: supervisor/management, personal reasons, and salary. I’m going to rule out salaries averaging $105k annually as a negative, especially in this economy, and I’m going to speculate that a significant percentage of “personal reasons” is the secret code for “I don’t want a bad TSA job reference when I bail out.”
So, over 10 ½ years, 5 reorganizations, and 3½ “high-three” cycles later, the answer is – you guessed it – another reorganization, issued a few weeks ago. It’s couched in quite tautologous and verbose language, accompanied by an organization chart that doesn’t have a box for General Counsel. As one long-time observer noted, maybe losing all the lawyers is a really good start.