The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) received more than 39,000 complaints related to its controversial screening methods between 2009 and 2012, but the agency’s method for tracking and responding to complaints is flawed, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found.
The GAO reports that between October 2009 and June 2012 customers filed 39,616 passenger-screening complaints through phone and email to the TSA Contact Center (TCC).
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That number may be low. The GAO notes that the figure does "not reflect the full nature and extent of complaints because local TSA staff have discretion in implementing TSA’s complaint processes, including how they receive and document complaints."
For example, at four of the six airports contacted by the GAO, comment cards were used to collect complaints. However, there is currently no agency policy tracking or centrally reporting on the cards.
"TSA's complaint resolution processes do not fully conform to standards of independence to ensure that these processes are fair, impartial, and credible," the report stated.
The GAO advised the agency to develop a consistent and central policy "to systematically collect information from all mechanisms, including standard complaint categories."
A TSA spokesman said in an email that the agency "will develop a policy to better inform air passengers about the screening complaint processes, including mechanisms for identifying and sharing best practices for implementing these processes, at the airport level, addressing a GAO recommendation."
The TSA screening methods, particularly its pat-downs and full-body scanners, have been the focus of considerable criticism from civil libertarians and Republican lawmakers.
Republican lawmakers pointed to the GAO report and other lapses in security as evidence of the agency’s need for reform and privatization at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Aviation Thursday.
"Unfortunately, as this mushrooming agency has spun out of control, passengers have not been well served," House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.) said. "We’ve had numerous security meltdowns, including in Honolulu, Los Angeles, Newark, Fort Myers, Charlotte, and elsewhere. When I helped establish this agency, Congress intended it to operate a risk-based system, but the TSA is best known for shaking down little old ladies and others who pose no security risk."
As reported by the Free Beacon, TSA Administrator John Pistole refused to appear at the hearing. The agency claimed the committee had no jurisdiction over it.