Lawmaker to TSA: 'Stop with the napping, the stealing, the tardiness and the disrespect'

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The TSA has also been sharply criticized in recent months following a series of under cover media reports showing some of its employees stealing items such iPads and money from airline passengers' luggage.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said the reports were damaging the TSA's already-frail reputation with airline passengers.

"These findings are especially hard to stomach since so many Americans today are sick of being groped, interrogated and treated like criminals when passing through checkpoints," Duncan said during his opening remarks at Thursday's hearing.

"If integrity is truly a core value, then TSA, it's time to prove it," Duncan continued. "Stop with the napping, the stealing, the tardiness and the disrespect, and earn Americans' trust and confidence."

The TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski attempted to defend the agency's workforce, arguing that instances of theft are outliers and not representative of the majority of its 47,000 workers.

"The overwhelming majority of TSA employees are good people doing good work," Halinski told the panel. "Nonetheless, misconduct occurs. And when it does, TSA takes prompt and appropriate action. Accountability is vital to our success."

Duncan said the TSA's efforts at holding employees accountable were being hurt by uneven enforcement of disciplinary procedures for workers who are caught breaking its rules.

"While I know that there are many thousands of hard-working, dedicated employees working at airports throughout the country, and it's unfair to generalize to the whole work force, unfortunately a few bad apples can ruin the bunch," Duncan said.

Duncan said the TSA's own figures showed only 31 of 56 cases of theft from airline passengers from 2010 to 2012 resulted in an employee being terminated.

The rest of the employees who were suspected of stealing over that time were suspended or received letters of reprimand, Duncan said.

"Stealing is stealing, and these are instances of stealing from American travelers," he said. "According to the recommended penalty range on TSA's table of offenses and penalty for theft or unauthorized taking, a letter of reprimand is not included."

Duncan said the TSA should have one set of rules for all cases involve in theft from airline passengers' luggage.

"Disciplinary actions should be standardized, tracked and processed in a timely manner so that the agency can compare performance nation-wide, analyze significant differences in data and make changes where changes are due, whether that's through additional training or stricter enforcement of policies and procedures," he said.

Halinski said the agency had to give due process to workers who are suspected of wrong-doing, unless they evidence is overwhelming.

"If I can't immediately prove it, sir, we have to do due diligence for our people," he said of cases involving suspected drug use among the TSA's employees.

"They're innocent until proven guilty. And that takes a little bit of time," Halinski said. "But we do give them the benefit of the doubt in those cases until the proof shows otherwise, sir."

Halinski admitted that cases of wrongdoing among the TSA's employees are magnets for media attention. 

"We are an organization, probably, that is in the public eye more than any other government organization right now," he said. "We see the traveling public 1.8 million times a day. So we're very visible...Every single time we have one knuckle head who decides he's going to do something bad, it tarnishes the image of our organization."

Halinksi said there was little the TSA could do to stop individual employees from ever breaking its rules.

"We're going to have the one-offs, I'm going to be straight up with you," he said. "And it'll probably make 20 rounds in the press." 

-This story was updated with new information at 1:15 and 1:45 p.m.