GAO Report Spotlights TSA Complaint Processes

The Transportation Security Administration has complaints about its own complaint system.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on November 29, 2012 detailing the shortcomings of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) complaint processes and recommended improvements.

In testimony before the Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives, Stephen M. Lord, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for the GAO, outlined the findings of the November report assessing the TSA’s efforts to improve the collection and analysis of the thousands of customer complaints the agency receives each year.

The first of the report’s four key findings concerned the receiving and analysis of complaints. While the TSA has various mechanisms for receiving customer complaints, the report found that the TSA lacks an agency-wide policy and consistent processes for receiving and mining complaints for data to inform management about their nature and extent. Airport-level TSA staff have discretion in how they implement processes to receive and record complaints.

The GAO recommended the TSA establish an agency-wide policy for receiving and reporting complaints and implement a process to compile and analyze complaints received via all complaint mechanisms. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responded by saying it concurred with the GAO’s recommendations.

Next, the GAO report found that the TSA has several methods of informing travelers of the various ways in which they may submit feedback and issue complaints, but lacks an agency-wide policy to ensure the consistent use of these methods at airports. For example, the agency has developed comment cards and related signage for display at security checkpoints informing customers of feedback and complaint methods, but only two of the six airports visited by GAO officials openly displayed the comment cards. Another two had them available upon request, and the last two had no comment cards available. The GAO recommended that the TSA establish a consistent policy for informing travelers about complaint processes and establish methods for identifying best practices in this regard among airport-level staff. The DHS concurred with the recommendations.

The third key finding was that processes established by the TSA for the resolution of complaints do not conform to independence standards developed to ensure fairness and impartiality.

“Specifically,” the report says, “TSA airport officials responsible for resolving air passenger complaints are generally in the same chain of command as TSA airport staff who are the subjects of the complaints.”

Although the TSA has an Ombudsman Division, it is tasked primarily with handling internal personnel matters, not complaints from air passengers. According to the report, the TSA is in the process of developing and implementing a process by which air passenger complaints are referred directly to the Ombudsman Division.

Finally, the report covered the TSA’s recent efforts to focus its screening resources on high-risk passengers and “improve the passenger experience” at security checkpoints with its Pre?TM program. Pre?TM is an expedited screening process whereby pre-vetted trusted travelers can enjoy a streamlined pre-flight screening process. The TSA introduced the program in 2012 and is rapidly expanding it to additional airports nationwide. In 2013, the GAO will assess the TSA’s progress in implementing the Pre?TM program.

Stewart Rabinowitz is President of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. Mr. Rabinowitz is Board Certified in Immigration and Nationality Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. To contact a Dallas immigration lawyer or Dallas immigration attorney visit