2 congressmen call for Honolulu TSA probe

June 21, 2011 - 4:59 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — Two congressmen called Tuesday for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to investigate lapses at Honolulu International Airport that prompted a move to fire dozens of baggage screeners.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, U.S. Reps. John L. Mica, R-Fla., and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, urged a probe into why Transportation Security Administration screeners "dramatically failed" in their responsibilities.

The TSA wants to fire 36 workers, including two top officials, and has suspended 12 others after a six-month investigation found they did not properly screen baggage during one shift at the airport.

The workers facing termination are on paid leave while the TSA goes through the firing process, which employees can appeal. The 12 others are to return to their jobs after unpaid suspensions of up to 30 days.

It was the single largest personnel action for misconduct in the agency's 10-year history.

The proposed firings "highlight the conflict that exists when the TSA acts as both the operator and regulator of the aviation screening programs," the letter to Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Charles K. Edwards said.

The letter demanded a number of items, including an analysis of the failure of TSA's oversight and supervision of screening in Honolulu; past evaluations of the airport's security officers and all performance disciplinary actions; and the titles, positions and current wage level of those involved.

Mica chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure committee and Chaffetz chairs the National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations subcommittee. Both have been critical of the TSA.

"It is essential that we have a full investigation of this massive TSA lapse and ensure the nation has the most effective security system possible," Mica said in a statement. "TSA can function more effectively as a security agency if it gets out of the business of managing a bloated bureaucracy of nearly 63,000."

Mica has long urged airports to use private, contracted screeners that are supervised by the TSA, said his spokesman Justin Harclerode.

"That's a better security model than when TSA performs all roles in the security structure," he said. Mica "thinks they have a much more appropriate role as regulator, standard-setter and auditor."

Chaffetz hopes an investigation will bring change.

The investigation request came as TSA workers conclude voting to select the union to represent what would be a bargaining unit of about 43,000 people. Some of the Honolulu employees under fire have sought help from the two unions vying to represent them: American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.