Transportation Security Administration officers were cited for more than 9,600 cases of misconduct from 2010 to 2012, according to a new government report that shows agency employees often received light punishments for sneaking prohibited items past scanners or napping on the job.
The report, released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, found nearly 2,000 cases of screeners who were sleeping, not following procedures or allowing relatives to bypass security checkpoints. More than 3,000 screeners showed up late, not at all or left the job without permission, GAO reported.
In one instance of misconduct, a security officer left a checkpoint to help a relative check in and then came back with the family member's bag and allowed it to go around security. A TSA supervisor saw the misconduct and insisted the bag be screened, according to the report.
The bag contained "prohibited items" after it was finally screened. The report did not elaborate on the nature of the items in the bag. The screener was eventually suspended for seven days.
The report also cited 56 cases of theft during the three-year span. In an undercover investigation by ABC News in 2012, 10 iPads were left at airport security checkpoints throughout the nation with a history of theft. Nine out of ten were returned, but one TSA officer, who was later fired, denied he stole an iPad when ABC News tracked the device to his home in Orlando.
But the report suggests the TSA is doing a poor job tracking the offenses and is not always handing out the punishment it should. The GAO's evaluation of TSA's 2012 data shows that 50 percent of the workers accused of sleeping on the job received less than the lowest penalty called for by TSA policies.
Forty-seven percent of the cases that GAO analyzed resulted in letters of reprimand, 31 percent resulted in suspensions of a definite duration and 17 percent resulted in the employee's removal from TSA.
"I get worried about this because in the history of air terrorism, employee security has been the one gap that has been the hardest gap to cover," aviation security expert Jeff Price.
Following the report, the TSA released a statement saying, it holds their workers to "the highest ethical standards" and has "zero tolerance for misconduct."
"TSA concurs with GAO's four recommendations to ensure that the agency establishes a process to verify that TSA staff at airports are in compliance, and is already working to implement these recommendations," the agency added.
There are more than 56,000 screeners at the nation's airports, most doing their jobs, but the GAO's report points out the persistent and ongoing problem with those who are failing to comply with federal regulations.
Two subcommittees of the House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing later today to examine how the TSA responds to reports of misbehavior and unethical conduct by its employees.
TSA Deputy Administrator John W. Halinski will represent the agency on Capitol Hill.