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Here’s Why TSA Employees Are So Unhappy

A recent report finds that airport security officers are unhappy about their pay and their managers.
By: | April 4, 2019 • 2 min read
Security staff checking bag through detector screen at airport.

Anyone who’s flown in or out of a U.S. airport during the last 18 years or so knows that going through the Transportation Security Administration’s security checkpoints is no picnic. Standing in long lines, and then rushing to remove one’s shoes, belt, keys, laptop (and trying to remember things like whether the shoes can go IN a bin next to the laptop or do they go directly ON the belt?) tends to make the already-unpleasant experience of flying these days even more stressful. The stress can be further exacerbated by TSA officers who bark orders at passengers and generally act as if they’re wannabe Marine Corps drill instructors. They do not–at least at many airport locations–seem like terribly happy employees.

It turns out they’re really not happy–that’s according to the findings of a just-released report from the Dept. of Homeland Security’s inspector general. As CNN reports, unclear advancement opportunities, low pay and poor management are pushing more TSA officers (TSOs) to leave their jobs. (The recent federal government shutdown, which forced TSOs and other government employees to work without pay, doubtless didn’t help matters any.)

The I.G. report is based on a review of exit surveys of departing TSOs. Common themes from the surveys include “dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities and issues with management’s competence and communication.” Indeed, the most commonly selected reason for leaving the TSA was “dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities and processes,” CNN reports.

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Low pay was also a frequently cited source of dissatisfaction by the departing TSOs, along with disrespectful treatment by supervisors. According to Glassdoor, full-time TSOs make an average of $37,000 per year, while part-time TSOs are paid $16 an hour. The TSA itself is rated a middling 2.8 stars on Glassdoor, based on just over 1,000 reviews submitted by current or former employees (this included other jobs at the agency in addition to TSO).

“About three-quarters of those who completed the voluntary exit surveys said the new job would pay more,” according to the I.G. report. The report found that at some airport locations, jobs at local retail stores offered higher pay than what the TSOs made.

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The report said the TSA had accepted all nine of the I.G.’s recommendations to target the staffing issues and had taken satisfactory steps to meet three of them, CNN reports. The report’s recommendations include steps geared to improve the hiring process, improve and utilize exit interviews and examine increases in pay based on TSO skill level.

The widespread dissatisfaction among TSOs has led to a retention crisis at the agency: The report notes that the TSA had hired more than 19,300 TSOs during the 2016-2017 budget year but lost more than 15,500 to turnover during that same period.

The high turnover and other issues identified within the report were “contributing factors to airport security weaknesses,” according to the I.G.

Andrew R. McIlvaine is senior editor at Human Resource Executive®. A Penn State graduate, Andy also spent two years in the U.S. Army prior to attending college and attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army Reserves. He can be reached at [email protected]

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