TSA must pay $ 1 million to whistleblowers it retaliated against

President Trump has been handed an ideal example to reinforce his drive to reform civil service laws. Using executive orders (his pen and his phone, as his predecessor put it), he has just implemented three reforms, but those can be reversed by the next Democrat in the Oval Office. It is time for him to place bureaucratic abuses on the national agenda.

The Transportation Security Agency is working hard to deserve its reputation as a useless, ineffective agency that consistently fails tests of its ability to spot guns and bombs, but which harasses (and feels up) grandmothers, while delaying airline passengers from getting to their gates on time. As one of the least popular federal bureaucracies, its misbehavior can be used to justify reform. And it has just been found culpable in a doozy of an abuse of bureaucratic power.

It is one thing to be ineffective, but much worse to resist and punish when employees attempt to identify and fix problems. Yet, that is what the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was caught doing, and penalized a million dollars for. Local media in Hawaii, but so far as a cursory Google search can reveal,  no general interest national outlets have picked up the story. KHNL TV-Hawaii News Now reports:

Three Transportation Security Administration employees in Hawaii who were abruptly reassigned to mainland positions have been awarded a total of $1 million dollars by a federal investigative agency.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said the TSA retaliated against the three over concerns regarding security and management problems at Hawaii airports.

Heather Callaghan Chuck was deputy director in charge of operations in Honolulu, while lifelong Kauai resident Sharlene Mata was in charge of neighbor island airports. The two found 15 types of security vulnerabilities and management deficiencies at Hawaii airports when they took over in early 2014.

"They weren't un-fixable, they were fixable. And quite frankly, readily fixable," said Callaghan Chuck. "And when we started reporting those, then all of a sudden we started getting negative repercussions from management instead of support.

A third TSA employee, Frank Abreu, also ran afoul of management.

"He stood up when the manager said he wanted  Frank to make a complaint that the two women had been disrespectful to the senior manager, and he said he wouldn't because it wasn't true," said Elbridge Smith, attorney for Callaghan Chuck and Mata.

The TSA then abruptly reassigned all three on one business day's notice.

This is brutal retaliation. All three individuals – deeply rooted in Hawaii were given one day to move to the mainland. There is no question that the message was, “Shut up!” The shocking unwillingness to hear about “readily fixable” problems suggests a total indifference to the actual mission of the agency, and a primary concern with protecting senior officials who might be embarrassed, or simply have to work a bit harder on their jobs.

I am glad that the harassed employees are being compensated, but that penalty is paid by you and me, that is to say, US taxpayers. Who are the officials that determined to harass the employees, rather than act on their suggestions to help accomplish the mission? What penalties – if any -- have they incurred? If they are still on the job, why?

The only changes mentioned are:

The TSA has agreed to pay a total of $1 million to the three, along with their moving and other expenses. Abreu and Mata will also be returned to comparable positions in Hawaii.

The TSA also has discontinued its discretionary practice of involuntary geographic reassignments, and has created an internal training program on whistleblower retaliation.

I hope that President Trump will demand an explanation of who suggested and who approved the retaliation. And if firing is not an option, then I hope that he will address the American public on the sort of civil service reforms necessary to root out such behavior and scare other bureaucrats into focusing on their mission, not on protecting their rear ends. Perhaps inviting the three vicitms of retaliatoin for their efforts to fix problems to come tot he White House is the way to illustrate how badly the bureaucracy needs fixing.

Hat tip: Peter von Buol

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