Under a settlement agreement announced by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on May 23, three Transportation Security Administration (TSA) whistleblowers will receive combined compensatory damages of about $1 million. The three whistleblowers, who were supervisory employees, complained of retaliation in which they were geographically reassigned after making disclosures related to airport operations and safety. Two whistleblowers will be returned from Seattle, Washington, and Burbank, California, to comparable positions in their native Hawaii.
Retaliation after raising concerns. At the time of the reassignments, the three whistleblowers were all serving as Deputy Federal Security Directors in Hawaii, where they oversaw airport operations as part of TSA’s Office of Security Operations, the agency’s largest subcomponent, according to the OSC. In early 2014, two of the whistleblowers made disclosures to TSA leadership, including reports of mismanagement and lax airport security protocols. Soon afterward, their subordinates raised concerns to TSA leadership about the efficiency and effectiveness of a regional restructuring plan.
TSA faulted all three whistleblowers for poor leadership and abruptly reassigned them from their airports in Hawaii to Seattle, Los Angeles, and Burbank, respectively. Two of the whistleblowers, who were natives of Hawaii, were separated from their extended families by the involuntary moves. After several more reassignments, the third whistleblower resigned under duress.
“OSC’s involvement required the review of thousands of pages of material, interviews with two dozen witnesses and subjects, and the congressional testimony of my predecessor before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee more than a year ago,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “This favorable outcome has been a long time in the making. I am pleased that we were able to achieve favorable results for the three TSA employees who had their lives thrown into disarray and hope this outcome will encourage others to speak up when they see something that could put the public at risk.”
TSA policy change. The OSC noted that since the 2014 reassignment of the whistleblowers, TSA has discontinued its discretionary practice of widespread geographic reassignments. TSA has also created a comprehensive internal training program on whistleblower retaliation.
Representative Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, quickly issued a statement calling the settlement “a victory for these whistleblowers and other whistleblowers throughout the federal government who rely on the Office of Special Counsel to protect their rights.” Cummings said that the Oversight Committee members “have been investigating problems at the TSA for several years, and it is clear that the agency needs major reforms to protect its employees and the public they are sworn to protect.”
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