The TSA is in the midst of a mid-scale housecleaning at Honolulu International Airport. After an investigation by local ABC affiliate KITV revealed numerous bags had gone unscreened, 36 TSA workers are in the process of being fired.
The probe began in January, after two TSA employees complained screeners in Honolulu's Lobby 4 allowed luggage to go on flights without being screened, because they did not open checked luggage to check for traces of explosives, sources said.
The investigation found some checked baggage during the morning shift was not being screened properly during the last several months of 2010, TSA officials said.
Termination notices went out to 31 screeners and five managers, with 12 more being suspended. Additionally, two of the top TSA officials in Honolulu--federal security director Glen Kajiyama and assistant William Gulledge--were fired Friday morning. It's the largest mass firing in TSA history.
KITV reported in early March that 27 screeners at Honolulu's Lobby 4--the busiest part of the airport in the morning--were being investigated for not properly screening bags. According to the two employees who tipped off higher-ups that something was amiss, the screeners didn't bother to actually open bags, but marked them checked anyway. While the probe had been underway for three months, it took the KITV report to make screening managers check to make sure every bag got screened.
According to one of the leaders of the effort to unionize TSA screeners, this snafu was in response to orders to pick up the pace of screening.
"They were only doing what they were told to do. They were working under orders," said Alfred Baang, Sr., a lead TSA screener at the airport and chief Honolulu steward for the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1234, one of the unions vying to organize TSA employees.
Baang said TSA screeners targeted for firing have told him they were responding to a memo telling them to screen bags more quickly -- a memo he claimed came from Gulledge -- who was fired Friday as well.
Baang said the memo told TSA screeners, "To do more, to quicken the pace, to get these bags out because the airlines are grumbling and everybody else was grumbling because of the backlog."
Baang said the TSA screeners did what's called "batching" -- using explosive detection equipment to test checked luggage --and only manually checking the bags that set the alarm off. The other suitcases are loaded onto planes without being checked, he said.
Baang also said that Lobby 4 has outdated equipment and is severely understaffed, despite the amount of traffic it gets in the morning.
This may have gone on for as long as four months--equaling potentially thousands of bags. And when you consider that you're talking about flights over water, it's all the more frightening.