The Office of the Ombudsman was created by the Transportation Security Administration to be a confidential advocate for airport security screeners, who have long complained about favoritism, retaliation and inconsistent implementation of policies within the agency.
But according to a report released yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, despite TSA initiatives to address complaints, many employees don't trust the programs or aren't aware of them.
At one airport, a TSA employee was reportedly reprimanded by his boss for complaining to the ombudsman about work conditions. When the employee complained to the ombudsman about the reprimand, he was reportedly reprimanded again.
At another airport, screeners said a manager wrote down the names of employees attending a group meeting with the ombudsman. A manager reportedly told one employee being considered for a promotion that attending the meeting "was a career move."
And when ombudsman staff tried to reach out to employees and identify workplace concerns, some TSA officials blocked them from visiting the checkpoints.
"By not successfully addressing such longstanding workplace issues, these proactive programs may provide false hope and have the unanticipated effects of heightening employee dissatisfaction and further undermining morale," the report said. "Given their frustration, employees may be distracted and less focused on their security and screening responsibilities."
TSA spokeswoman Lara Uselding said the inspector general failed to recognize the "scale, depth and leading-edge quality" of the programs that the TSA has undertaken. She added that the agency disagrees with the broad conclusions reached by interviewing 320 screeners at eight airports.
"This doesn't represent the workforce of 46,000, whose morale is very good," Ms. Uselding said.
The TSA has been working to increase morale among screeners and the respect they get from passengers. Its most recent effort: giving screeners royal blue shirts and metal badges.