A recent report from the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found that senior leaders at the Transportation Security Administration deviated from standard policy to provide “unusually favorable treatment” to an employee involved in a disciplinary procedure.
The following is a brief summary of the IG report about the disciplinary process in question. The full report is included below.
The involved employee, who the report refers to as the “TSES Employee,” allegedly was engaged in a workplace relationship with a subordinate employee, and he allegedly violated TSA hiring practices when he hired a colleague for a Competitive Service position outside of the competitive process.
The TSES Employee was interviewed by TSA’s Office of Inspections (OOI) about the relationship with the subordinate employee. He repeatedly denied having a romantic relatiopship with her, but when investigators confronted him with an email he sent to her which contained sexually explicit statements, he admitted to having an “emotionally intimate” relationship with her that he conceded was not workplace appropriate.
TSA’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) Unit Chief (UC) reviewed the situation and charges against the TSES Employee and concluded that his removal was warranted under the circumstances.
However, senior leaders met and some felt removal was too extreme. Ultimately, an offer was made to the TSES employee that permitted him to continue to receive the same salary he had been receiving as a member of the TSES even though it was an apparent demotion.
The IG said in its analysis of the report:
TSA’s handling of the TSES Employee’s disciplinary matter deviated from standard practice in several key respects. Initially, the matter proceeded along the normal course, with OOI investigating the allegations and OPR making a determination as to the appropriate charges to bring under the circumstances…
…The proposed penalty (i.e., removal) appears to have been warranted — if not required — by TSA’s Table of Penalties.
Under normal circumstances, the TSES Employee should have been issued the NPR [Notice of Proposed Removal] and allowed to provide an oral and/or written response to the ADAA, the designated Deciding Official. Instead, senior leadership appears to have commandeered the process, resulting in decisions by the Agency that raise serious questions about the appropriateness of its actions in this matter…
The IG had investigated the situation after a letter sent in 2016 by then House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) raised questions about whether the TSA had properly followed its own procedures and sought information about how the employee was ultimately able to receive a much less severe penalty.
Cummings and current Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) were not pleased with the conclusions from the report. They said in a statement:
Today’s report by the Inspector General confirms senior staff at the Transportation Security Administration intentionally bypassed their own rules and provided ‘unusually favorable treatment’ to a senior executive who had been recommended for removal on the basis of his misconduct.
TSA must immediately implement the Inspector General’s recommendations to ensure it conducts all disciplinary actions in a fair and impartial manner without regard to position while also protecting the rights of whistleblowers. The Committee will continue to investigate allegations of misconduct, mismanagement, and whistleblower retaliation to ensure we hold TSA officials accountable for their actions.
The IG offered these recommendations to the TSA in its report:
TSA should address these irregularities with the involved employees who still remain at TSA, and should take steps to advise TSA employees of all levels and positions of their obligation to comply with existing policies and standard procedures for all disciplinary matters, including matters involving members of the TSES. By so doing, TSA will be better positioned to accomplish its stated aim of “ensuring that the disciplinary process treats all TSA employees the same regardless of title or position.”