Most of the writing about the TSA’s security measures has been focused on the opinions and experiences of passengers, but Steven Frischling, at the blog Flying With Fish, wondered what the TSA staff had to say on the topic. He contacted 20 transportation security officers (TSOs) and heard back from 17 of them, and all expressed negative reactions.
Here are some of their comments:
I come to work to do my job. It is not up to me to decide policy, it is up to me to carry out my duties as dictated by the Transportation Security Administration. When a person stands in front of me and calls me a pervert or accuses me of molesting them it is disheartening. People fail to understand that neither of us are happy about the intrusive pat down I am carrying out.
Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me, said in my presence as I patted passengers down. These comments are painful and demoralizing, one day is bad enough, but I have to come back tomorrow, the next day and the day after that to keep hearing these comments. If something doesn’t change in the next two weeks I don’t know how much longer I can withstand this taunting. I go home and I cry. I am serving my country, I should not have to go home and cry after a day of honorably serving my country.
While many just see a uniform with gloves feeling them for concealed items, I am a person. I am a person who has feelings. I am a person who has served this country. I am a person who wants to continue serving his country. The constant run of hateful comments while I perform my job will break me down faster and harder than anything I encountered while in combat in the Army.
So, TSOs, you hate performing these pat downs? They make you uncomfortable? The reaction of the passengers hurts your feelings? Well, good.
I don't mean that in a vindictive way. I know that the majority of TSOs are just normal people trying to do their job and make a living. But I'm happy to hear that performing these searches is painful for you because it shows you have a conscience. It shows that you understand that humiliating and dehumanizing your fellow Americans is wrong. You know you shouldn't be doing what you have been asked to do.
“I was just following orders” is simply not an acceptable excuse. As a culture we decided back in 1946 that it was not valid for doing something immoral. We've coded that into our legal system, and even the military gives its soldiers the right and responsibility to refuse orders that violate the law. Everyone in society, particularly those in positions of power, has that responsibility.
You are free to leave your job if you object. But, particularly in this economy, there may not be another job waiting for you. I know you may be facing the choice of continuing a job you find objectionable or losing the roof over your head and being unable to feed your children. Most of us have never had to choose between the sanctity of others' civil rights and the basic needs of our own families, so I'll not make light of that dilemma. However, for the TSOs who can afford to quit in protest, I hope you will. A mass defection of their staff might help them to realize that this policy has deeper repercussions than disgruntled passengers.
For the ones that can't, I hope you use your days off and every sick day you have to look for a better job. You want to serve your country and keep people safe? Think about the military, the police, the fire department, the Border Patrol, the Peace Corps, the Foreign Service, or any of the hundreds of organizations that are much better at it and more committed to it than the TSA, which cannot cite a single instance of having apprehended a terrorist in its entire existence.
While you are looking for a new job, take the time to get educated on the issue, if you haven't already. Understand why people see this procedure as a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. Read up on the literature about the effectiveness of different security procedures. Suggest more effective methods, like bomb-sniffing dogs, to your superiors. Register concerns about the ones you think are ineffective or wasteful. Read what health professionals are saying about the risks of body scanners. Read up on the religious objections people have raised.
If you should see a co-worker mistreating someone or behaving unprofessionally, get on his or her case. That sort of abuse of power just compounds the problem and reinforces the negative stereotypes about TSOs.
Contact your senators and representatives to let them know how you feel. The government is answerable to us, not the other way around, and TSA is a government agency.
Most importantly, as long as you stay with the TSA, I hope you will be polite and apologetic to the passengers you have to search. Remember that their reactions are natural for people who are being violated, and you are the face of the organization doing the violating. Consider that the price you have to pay for staying at the job and let it be another motivator for moving you into something better.
And passengers, this doesn't mean you have a green card to be obnoxious. Remember, the person in front of you is your best ally when it comes to getting you through security with as little stress and discomfort as possible. You can fight this policy through all possible channels, but in the moment, try and treat each other with the respect denied to you both by the TSA