Transparency at TSA

Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Hearing Date: March 2, 2017 10:00 am 2154 Rayburn House Office Building

TAKEAWAYS:
  • The committee identified longstanding issues with the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Office of Chief Counsel.
  • TSA is withholding information necessary for the Office of Special Council (OSC) to conduct whistleblower retaliation investigations.
    • TSA claims it is relying on department guidance to invoke an inapplicable attorney-client privilege to redact documents.
  • TSA has a legal obligation to provide all requested documents in unredacted form.
    • Acting TSA Administrator Gowadia has committed to work more transparently with OSC to protect whistleblowers.
  • TSA has demonstrated longstanding abuse of its Secret Security Information (SSI) program – the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Roth identified issues with TSA’s handling of its Sensitive Security Information (SSI) programs in a 2016 report.
  • The committee has threatened subpoena if TSA fails to provide all outstanding documentation and guidance by March 10, 2017.
PURPOSE:
  • To address new and ongoing management and transparency challenges at TSA.
  • To examine a recent DHS Inspector General report which found, “TSA cannot be trusted to administer the [SSI] program in a reasonable manner.”
  • To address comments made to the committee by TSA’s Chief Counsel who indicated the security agency has no legal obligation to turn over documents to OSC.
BACKGROUND:
  • The committee has been investigating abusive management practices, improper use of directed reassignments, whistleblower retaliation, security failures, excessive bonuses, and employee intimidation at TSA.
  • The Committee held two hearings related to mismanagement and transparency at TSA in April 2016 and May 2016.
  • OSC informed the committee that TSA has not been cooperative during investigations of whistleblower retaliation at the security agency.
  • TSA has refused to turn over documents to the Office of Special Counsel, and DHS IG determined that TSA is excessive and arbitrary in its redacting.

KEY VIDEOS:

Chairman Chaffetz (R-UT): “We’re going to go to the ends of the earth to protect whistleblowers.”

Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Gary Palmer (R-AL): “Selective use of redaction, the inconsistent use of it, claiming attorney client privilege — with all due respect it appears that TSA is trying to cover up problems.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY): “How can TSA tell Congress it will base its responses on OSC’s investigations then refuse to give OSC the documents necessary to complete those investigations?”

Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
Dr. Huban A. Gowadia, Ph.D. Acting Administrator Transportation Security Administration Document
The Honorable John Roth Inspector General U.S. Department of Homeland Security Document
The Honorable Carolyn Lerner Special Counsel U.S. Office of Special Counsel Document