For as long as I can remember the federal government has lectured American business owners on the importance of being honest in their advertising practices and has worked aggressively to regulate them into compliance. They have cracked down on small businesses that have gotten themselves into trouble with deceptive pricing, substantiating claims, bait-and-switch advertising and misleading language. But what happens when a federal agency perpetuates a misleading and unsubstantiated claim that can be deceiving to the American public?
If you want to see a prominent example of a federal agency that completely blunders truth in advertising on a daily basis, look no further than the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Since 2005, after being administratively reclassified without Congressional approval, our nation’s airport screeners have gone by the misleading title of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). This title falls short of any basic standard for truth in advertising by the mere fact that TSOs do not have any federal law enforcement training.
Despite all this, the TSA claims the move was simply to put airport screeners on a federal law enforcement career path. This must have been wonderful news to anyone sitting at home who had dreamed of becoming an officer but didn’t want to face the burdens of passing a rigorous six month basic training program like most police officers must pass before they have the honor of being called an officer and can put on their uniform for the first time. Of course, with their new officer title in hand, TSOs received federal law enforcement uniforms complete with metal law enforcement badges.
Just last week, our beloved TSOs’ uniforms came back into the forefront of debate as the TSA agreed to the largest collective bargaining agreement since WWII. Under the labor agreement, our nation’s 45,000 TSOs will see their uniform allowance nearly double to $446 per year which is estimated to cost $9.63 million annually.
To put this cost increase into perspective, a TSO will now receive a higher uniform allowance than a combat Marine Lieutenant who receives a one-time uniform allowance of $400. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the TSOs’ union, claims this agreement will provide improved uniforms and permit uniform variations to account for weather and temperature.
I find it highly disturbing that at a time when our nation is heading towards a fiscal cliff, we are increasing the budget to provide non-federal law enforcement government employees with an increased allowance to purchase additional law enforcement uniforms. If our TSOs would simply carry out the basic functions of their job as screeners and processors they wouldn’t need to worry about improved uniforms or the weather as they work inside our nation’s climate controlled airports.
Unfortunately, TSOs need for uniform variations to account for weather and temperature is due to the increased expansion of their authority which is occurring through Department of Homeland Security (DSH) Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. Through VIPR teams, TSOs can now be seen conducting operations on our highways, bus stations, Amtrak terminals and even at campaign events, political conventions and the Presidential Inauguration.
According to DHS “their duty is to screen passengers, look for suspicious behavior and act as a visible deterrent in multiple transportation sectors, including general aviation, buses, and mass-transit. New technology, including the use of mobile radiological screening equipment, has expanded the reach and capability of TSA’s VIPR teams.”
To block the expanded reach of TSOs, I introduced an amendment to the FY2013 DHS Appropriations Act which would have prohibited the use of funds to be used for TSA TSOs or Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) outside an airport. This amendment had a broad coalition of bipartisan support but unfortunately failed by a mere total of fourteen votes. Just fourteen votes is all that stands between us in Congress from reigning in this unchecked expansion of the federal government being paid for without any say by American taxpayers.
I believe that TSOs and BDOs need to immediately return to our nation’s airports, go back to their original roles as screeners and processors, and focus on trying to successfully carry out the functions of those jobs. To help return TSOs and BDOs to their original title and uniforms, I introduced H.R. 3608, the Stop TSA’s Reach in Policy Act aka the STRIP Act. This bill will simply overturn the TSA’s administrative reclassification by prohibiting any TSA employee who has not received federal law enforcement training from using the title “officer,” wearing a federal law enforcement uniform or a metal law enforcement badge.
It is time that we stop allowing the TSA to perpetuate a bureaucratic myth that they are somehow actually putting people with zero law enforcement training on a federal law enforcement career path. This simply isn’t the case and the TSA needs to finally admit it. With your help and that of your Member of Congress we can reign in this unchecked expansion of our federal government.