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TSA acknowledges financial stress of shutdown is forcing officers to stay home (washingtonpost.com)
96 points by laurex 61 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

  She said her fellow officers are “out there working, they’re putting their lives on the line. We took that oath when we got hired here, and we’re not even getting what we deserve.”
All budgeting problems aside, how do TSA officers put their lives on the line?

Unlike most other forms of law enforcement, TSA agents lives are most at risk when off-duty and someone learns they are an agent in a social setting. As a result, the government shutdown is putting TSA lives in jeopardy.

They are at risk of getting laughed at.

I doubt even that. Most agents would probably just say "I don't like them either, but it pays the bills".

Honestly can't tell if you're being facetious haha. It's not that I think the risk of them being attacked for being a TSA officer is high, but the risk they face at their jobs seems so low.

TSA agents are specifically not law enforcement. They don't swear the same oath as federal law enforcement officers, don't carry weapons, and have no arrest powers.

I guess they think they're law officers or something. They're more akin to security guards. I hate that individuals are not able to go to work and earn a wage but I really thing the TSA is full of themselves.

Even safer than being a security guard I bet.

I'd say their risk profile is limited to someone attacking the checkpoint explosively, which has not happened.

Nobody goes to rob the till or start a knife fight at the airport.

There's too many people for anything short of large scale violent crime, which is pretty rare.

It's a common turn of phrase used by people who are working "for their country" in security related jobs.

People in the police, army, and similar forces (whether TSA officers are considered as such is a political point) are often spoken about in similar terms regardless of how dangerous their jobs actually are (e.g. an Army chef based in the US may be revered just as much for putting their 'life on the line' as someone running into Helmand because it's about their service to the country rather than the absolute risk).

Right, but police and army have an actual risk. It’s not really the same comparison.

I never hear people talk about how the postal service mail carriers “put their lives on the line” although they are probably at an increased over TSA because of dog attacks.

I'm genuinely curious, myself. In the US, how many deaths in the line of duty are there (per thousand) for police officers, firefighters, and TSA agents, to juxtapose?

Only one TSA officer has ever been killed on-duty, and they have a total of 57,000 employees as of 2016 [1]. Not all of them are inspection agents (maybe 1/3? I'll use 20,000), but they've been an agency since 9/11 (I'll use 17 years). That makes 1 death per 340,000 agent-years. Admittedly I don't know how their total employee number has changed over time, and my 1/3 estimate could be wildly off.

Meanwhile the statistic for police in the US in 2013 was 11.1/100,000 [2], about 37 times as dangerous, or 18.3/100,000 for firefighters [3], or about 62 times as dangerous.

That's not the whole picture though, because it doesn't take into account hours worked, or injury (probably also higher for firefighters and police).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transportation_Security_Admini... [2] https://fee.org/articles/by-the-numbers-how-dangerous-is-it-... [3] https://www.firehouse.com/safety-health/news/10535644/firefi...

It's worth pondering that the overwhelming majority of police deaths are injuries when an inattentive driver runs over an officer during a traffic stop. Only a suicidal maniac would stand for an extended time on the drivers side of a stopped car on the highway. It would be a boon to public health if the police could just photograph a traffic offender and send him the ticket in the mail! The police unions would be disappointed, though, because then they can't use the statistics to argue for their members, because felony homicides of police officers are around 40/year in the US. That includes Greater Methville.

Maybe it's regional, but when I see police officers pulling someone over they almost always go to the passenger window.

That's the main difference between police officers and highway patrol in my area: police go to the driver side window, highway patrol go to the passenger side.

But yeah, it seems like an unnecessary risk for police to go to the driver's side. I always try to give them space, but quite a few drivers don't.

I read recently, maybe here, that standing by the side of the road deaths for law enforcement is no longer the greatest cause of death.

Also, I'm a truck driver, on the road all day every day, and cops are mostly on the passenger side these days. Anecdata.

That's a whole lot less dangerous than being a mechanic or a farmer.


Policing is 14th most dangerous job in USA per this list:


Firefighters and Security guards are not in top 25.

It's a bit surprising not to see the military on this list. According to [0] the US military has 82 deaths per 100,000 per year, around 55 of which are from "accidents" and "combat" which could reasonably be considered work-related deaths. That would put it in third or fourth place on the most dangerous list.


Probably not captured under Bureau of Labor Statistics. Either military is completely excluded, or excludes ex-US.

Being on base in the USA is probably pretty safe, with a healthier than average population.

I suspect that BLS doesn't collect statistics on sex workers or the military (or they're not included on this list). There are probably a few other very dangerous jobs that are similarly omitted.

Not all policing is equal. Beat cop in Chicago or Sheriff of Methville is on a whole different level than TSA. Park Rangers are probably much higher risk than your average TSA employee because the routinely work alone and often are put in a situation where they have to tell a bunch of drunk people to stop partying.

For what is pays and the educational requirements policing is a very safe job.

Suicide is a major occupational hazard among airport screeners?

As discovered in Belgium’s airport, those long queues waiting for security can be very risky places.

Is there any incident of a TSA agent being assaulted on duty or even off-duty? I mean, I bet it compares to almost anyone working in a high customer interaction environment. It’s probably more dangerous to work at McDonalds.

You don't think screening for bombs has any potential to be dangerous?

The TSA has never found a bomb.

...that was reported. Question is whether whose interest it would be in to not publicly report on the number of bombs found by an agency. I can understand NSA and CIA not revealing much but am confused about TSA’s motives since they are much more public facing than anything in the intelligence community.

Most underrated comment.

I don't think that statement, by itself, tells us much about the TSA's efficacy. Because their mere presence could be an effective deterrent.

We know at least two made it through. Underwear bomber, shoe bomber.

We also know pre-9/11 how common it was (non-existent).

We also know that they consistently fail audits. Though they've gotten better! Most recently they only failed ~75% of the time at detecting things auditors were trying to smuggle in, instead of the prior 95%!

So, yeah, by itself it doesn't. But we have enough data to make a pretty solid eval.

Both the underwear bomber and shoe bomber boarded flights overseas (Amsterdam and Paris respectively) -- so no TSA involvement.

The TSA has operated overseas before, but probably not in these countries.

If they see a country isn't up to their standard, I think they either show up to implement it for flights headed to the US or at least consult with the nation.

Underwear bomber was Saudi intelligence/CIA, for the reader's info.

But the parent comment wasn't regarding the efficacy of the TSA, it was regarding the dangers of being a TSA agent

All the parent wrote was:

> The TSA has never found a bomb.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I don't understand how that supports your statement.

They were replying to a comment which implied that the main risk of working for the TSA is dealing with bombs. But the TSA has never dealt with any bombs, so clearly that's not actually a risk of working there.

At what scale? I would argue a taxi driver has a more dangerous job (in terms of probability of injury).

I believe I read that taxi drivers have a very high fatality rate in the United States, but definitely higher than law enforcement.

Do you think searching Key West for rabid wolverines to be a very dangerous job, because, like, wolverines are pretty dangerous?

You may as well say that construction workers, electricians and pizza delivery drivers are out there, putting their lives on the line

Construction is a dangerous job as well. You can be hit by falling things, there can be heavy equipment failures, you can fall off the buildings if you're not sufficiently harnessed. Electricians too - there's a chance, however small, of receiving a lethal shock. Delivery drivers could get killed in car accidents, it happens every day (car accidents, not specifically involving pizza drivers but given they're on the road more often it's a statistically higher probability for them)

Yes, these are all much more dangerous jobs than TSA - yet they wouldn't describe themselves as 'putting their lives on the line'- that's my point.

> A realistic replica suicide vest and claymore mine were discovered in a traveler’s checked bag at the El Paso International Airport (ELP). The traveler was an explosives ordnance disposal contractor and the items were used as training aids.

I can't believe he'd be dumb enough to try to bring this on an airplane. It'd make way more sense to ship them to w/e destination.

TSA takes people's guns away on a daily basis. Eventually a passenger may not want to cooperate. I dislike airport security as much as anyone else (and because I opt out of the body scanners I've had plenty of undesirable intimate experiences with TSA agents), but their Instagram page is really enlightening. Sadly the guy who ran it passed away last year, but it's interesting to see the volume of contraband that people try to bring on planes. I think only 1 TSA agent has been killed while on duty, but a few more have been shot and and survived

Remember before all the TSA nonsense, airports had metal detectors and xrays operated by airport security? Did they not also prevent guns from being carried on planes?

Isn't TSA just Airport Security ?

No, it's also a power and money hungry agency. The airport security of yore just did their jobs and were a lot more pleasant to deal with. The traveling public was just as safe.

And perhaps more safe. Security theater is a real thing and gives people a false sense of security.

I've heard that the reason we haven't had a major terrorist attack in the US since 9/11 was because of vigilance of the public. If people get lazy and start trusting that the TSA will competently do their job, we're likely to have another. I think it's because the TSA is pretty bad at their jobs that we haven't had anything major attack.

Airport security didn't try to extort you into buying pre-clearance, or try to enforce ridiculous and pointless rules.

I don't think local airport security back in the day had a nationally organized no-fly list.

I wondered why the feed wasn’t as good these days; that’s really sad. He was really funny, and it was so unusual to associate humor with (in my experience) the most humorless branch of the federal government.

An old project manager of mine flew with a gun once. It was entirely legal, because owning guns is legal, and flying is legal. It just had to be checked out and put away safely.

Flying with one in your carry-on is illegal for regular people. You can check one in your luggage but there's some special rules that sometimes the TSA and airline staff aren't familiar with (you must use a lock that is not TSA approved, you're not allowed to let TSA or airline staff borrow the key, stuff like that). The only time I traveled with a gun it was simpler (and cheaper!) to just mail it to myself.

Yeah, that's pretty stupid. It should never be cheaper to mail something small, like a gun, than to carry it with you.

TSA is a case where the government nationalized a thing (airport security) that was sufficiently handled by the private sector.

A centralized regulating agency for transportation security makes sense, but heres what I don't get: what was the argument for also creating/hiring a literal army of guards to replace the private force that existed before? It seems unprecedented considering everything else in the post-Reagan political ideology.

It was a massive and invasive expansion of Federal policing power, and it seemingly comes under no real scrutiny or opposition (beyond everyone completely hating it)

I have little sympathy for the TSA as an organization. I also have no idea if the effectiveness is any better or worse, but I feel like the policies and protocols are more consistent between airports or even terminals than they were before they took over. (although, the TSA seemed to struggle with this during the first decade or so of their existence and it's still an ongoing problem...just much smaller). As airport security concerns grew after 9/11 more demands were made of travelers with vary inconsistent application. At least now if I go to most airports I know what the security protocol will be. If I have PreCheck, that is also pretty consistent with how its applied.

Given that, I don't see any reason they can't just be standards or policies that private security would adhere to. I'm sure there's a boondoggle story behind it, but I thought some airports had tried replacing TSA with middling success?

It's just a government jobs program, nothing more. Just a tool to bolster bigger budgets and higher employment numbers.

> TSA is a case where the government nationalized a thing (airport security) that was sufficiently handled by the private sector.

SFO is still private. Their version of security is not the TSA, they are Covenant Aviation Security. [0]

[0] http://covenantsecurity.com/careers.html

The TSA is a funding apparatus. The TSA employees need training and equipment, which is all bought from private companies.

If it was truly about security, then it would just be a regulatory and enforcement agency like the EPA. But nope, gotta get those dollars!

"they’re putting their lives on the line"

Yeah right, my heros.

If that is true, then technically anyone at the airport is putting their lives on the line. No one life is worth more than another, so arguing they are putting their lives on the line is an attempt at controlling the conversation.

That said, the airport is a TSA run security theater: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_theater. They know this, of course, but must act otherwise.

I was being sarsactic. The TSA is nonsense and a huge waste of money not to mention time.

TSA is one of the biggest jokes in government economic rigging. Anecdotally, they're even more grumpy than the DMV. Yeah I've heard the adage the DMV is supposed to be slow as a control theory.

Bottom line is the TSA doesn't provide the value it costs.

DMV in my area is quite pleasant. Then again, the TSA is also quite pleasant (in demeanor, not the inconvenience), so maybe I'm just in a pleasant area.

I really wish we could just abolish the TSA and let the airlines and their insurance work it out with the airports. Things were way better before 9/11 when I didn't feel like a criminal when I need to ride on an airplane.

The system whereby the government is "shutdown", forcing all its employees to become creditors, but at the same time everyone is expected to treat it as mere theatre where they eventually will be paid, is absurd. If it was France everyone involved would be in the street throwing road flares at the police. They should at the very least be starting to talk up the threat of going on strike - or action short of a strike.

(Also, shutdowns are becoming increasingly frequent. If this continues, maybe one day it won't come out of the shutdown ...)

I don’t imagine we’ll be out of this one as long as trump is in office.

ATC staff, inspectors -- I get that, they're useful

TSA?? They're not doing anything of value, for the most part. Three quarters of them could probably be let go. We're not losing much here.

That might be true, but it's still fucked up to not pay them, and you guys are being crass by saying this stuff right now. They're people just like you and I, and the TSA front line employees aren't the problem, it's the security theatre that's become the norm that's the issue. Please consider separating your hate for the TSA from the individuals doing their jobs each day.

Regardless of one's opinion of the efficacy of the TSA, the fact remains travelers must endure higher wait times when a significant fraction of scheduled-to-be-working TSA officers are not on the job.

While I'm not a fan of the TSA as an institution, I'm certainly sympathetic to them being in a situation of essentially unpaid servitude. Nobody deserves that, no matter how shitty or unimportant you think their job is.

Well, I've heard that in many areas, banks are giving out zero interest loans to government employees in the amount of their regular paycheck. So, unless these people don't know about these programs, they are still getting paid, and the loans will be repaid when the shutdown ends.

> essentially unpaid servitude

According to Webster: "a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one's course of action or way of life"

This is false. They have an option (leave) and can execute on it.

Man the world you must live in where the option to be unemployed for months is a trivial thing for everyone involved.

Months of unemployment != servitude. There is an option.

Yeah, it's more like being downgraded to an internship

I wonder if Uber/Lyft has seen a jump in driver sign ups since the shutdown. Not sure how fast their onboarding is...but probably faster than trying to find a new job / temp job?

A friend of mine works for Shipt and she says there's been huge amounts of new signups in the past two weeks.

I would imagine faster, but certainly more reliable depending on your skill set.

TSA staff going from poorly paid to not paid at all certainly doesn't open the door for any perverse incentives for extra cash. No sir-ee.

Perfect time to end this thinly veiled jobs program.

> “The American people need to know that their air travel remains safe,” Markey wrote.

I think the American people have been lied to enough.

Air travel is probably safer with the TSA in full operation, but only because there is a lower proportion of angry and tired people who have been waiting in line for 4 hours around.

Sen. Markey wasn't referring to the TSA, at least not primarily. He was much more concerned about air traffic control and safety inspections, as we should all be.

This is a bit puzzling to me. Isn’t TSA paid for by user fees? If so, why are they being impacted by the Government’s failure to pass a budget?


I'd like to know how TSA employees are getting by and paying the mortgage or rent, considering that most people have less than $500 in savings. People saying that they've heard of banks giving out zero-interest loans in some areas is only anecdotal.

If this happened in France (or many other places) there would be strikes, barricades, burning towers of tires, the whole works. American workers are incredibly timid.

Non-paywall link: http://archive.is/RPAmu

Nothing like a bunch of privileged computer geeks laughing at the 'help' that isn't getting paid. And mocking them because they feel insecure dealing with all the hostility every day on the job.

Time to get a more useful minimum wage job. TSA is just an occasional contractor enrichment scheme that senator's can't roll back just in case something happens.

While i don't envy their position - i think describing it as working without pay as a little disingenuous - while they have yet to be paid for the work they are performing, does anyone really believe that they are not going to be paid for their work down the road?

> i think describing it as working without pay as a little disingenuous

Disingenuous is taking this too far. They're paid in arrears, so the fact they've missed a paycheck means they've already done work which ought to have resulted in pay. They are currently without pay for labor they've contributed within the appropriate time-frame.

look i'm not saying they are in a desirable position, or that they are not entitled to pay that they earned, what i am saying is that if you asked a private sector worker which would you rather: 1. work without pay, but knowing you will have a job and eventually get paid (TSA) or 2. find out you no longer have a job and that you will never get paid for the work you performed (the private sector example)

> what i am saying is that if you asked a private sector worker which would you rather

I was saying, regardless of whatever position I might take in a thought experiment, the US government has acted irrationally and violated an implicitly (and often explicitly) defined contract within our society: I give you my labor power, you give me cash. It currently stands that many government workers are without pay because that contract was violated and they have yet to be paid for their labor, so WP saying they are without pay is a valid statement.

> While i don't envy their position - i think describing it as working without pay as a little disingenuous - while they have yet to be paid for the work they are performing, does anyone really believe that they are not going to be paid for their work down the road?

In the meantime they need to make their rent and mortgage and car and credit card payments and their creditors aren't going to accept an IOU. So for the time being, this is exactly like working without pay.

Just not paying people for some indeterminate length of time is not acceptable. Not being paid is a very real hardship, especially when you consider TSA agent isn't exactly a high paying job. A lot of the government workers not being paid are average paycheck to paycheck Americans. I'll have the money in a few weeks isn't much comfort when you need to pay your bills and get food for your kids today.

Not everyone has, or is able to (easily) have enough slack in their budget to endure something like this.

Edit: To adapt Keynes: the market for payday loans can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.

Yes, they will receive back pay, but a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck.

this is my point - don't you think it a salient fact to inform the reader that these employees will in fact be paid for the work they perform....at some point

The point is that they won't be repaid for the costs incurred from being without any income for months. These include late fees, high interest rates on loans, long-term damage to their credit, etc.

I heard workers sued the government over late fees and other personal penalties workers had from the 2013 shutdown. They won in court last month, but it took 6 years.

... at some point where they may be homeless because of missing rent because of living paycheck to paycheck and the first $0-by-government-shutdown paychecks have already been sent out.

Just imagine how many payday loans are currently being processes right now at crazy interest rates. The true fallout might actually occur long after this shutdown is over.

Congress already signed off on giving everyone back pay and I've read that they will be giving out a 1 day's pay and a $500 bonus to all TSA officers. It helps cushion the blow of having a $0.00 paycheck but it doesn't fix the situation. You have people not being able to pay rent and mortgages. The bank will be fine but a landlord might not be so fine, they will have to dig into savings to make mortgage payments. Thankfully the employees affected by the shutdown is mostly spread out across the country and not isolated to things like military bases where entire communities could suffer without paychecks coming in.

It boggles my mind how the new normal consists of re-living the 'best' part of the collapse of the Soviet Union - the part where people had to go to work, but weren't getting paid for it.

Of course, in the Soviet Union, you didn't have rent and mortgage payments to make, bread and vodka was provided through rations, and during the collapse, nobody cared too much if you looted your workplace of anything that wasn't nailed down, or couldn't be pried off, so society kind of stumbled along, despite the lack of wages.

What I really don't understand is why this isn't being treated like the recurring, front-page, every-headline, national emergency that this is.

For bonus points: These employees are forbidden, by law, to do a strike, or perform a work stoppage, or a work slowdown. If CBP actually carried one out, though, this 'crisis' would be resolved in under 24 hours, as every single company in the United States that had an international supply chain would be screaming at the White House to get this problem fixed.

Companies would probably prefer paying their employees in one lump sum every year (think of all the interest you could make investing their wages throughout the year!) The shutdown doesn't really affect corporations that much. Many govt employees still have to go to work so most things get done and for the ones that are furloughed, companies might get off easy on skipping inspections and doing proper paperwork because there is no one checking. Everyone will get paid someday but its hard going for weeks with delayed income, especially low-level govt employees who aren't exactly rolling in the dough. At least the ones on furlough have the time to go find some temporary work. The CBP workers should actually organize something, they can't fire everyone.

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