Why has senior leadership played such a major part in the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) high attrition rates?

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the governing body for traveling in the United States, with its main focus being aviation. TSA mainly employs transportation security officers, or TSOs. You have encountered a TSO if you have traveled through airport security.

The TSA attrition rate grew from 9.13% in 2012 to 13.91% in 2017 (www.oig.dhs.gov). As of April 2019, the attrition rate was 17%. Although this is high, TSA maintains that the attrition rate is in line with the average of all federal employees. That being said, the rate is higher for part-time employees: it is around 27% (www.oig.dhs.gov).

In March 2019, the Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit of TSA, titled “TSA Needs to Improve Efforts to Retain, Hire, and Train Its Transportation Security Officers.” In this report, John Kelly, the acting Inspector General, cited the following failures of TSA senior leadership. First, TSA leadership does not effectively utilize the results of exit surveys when making decisions. Next, poor hiring procedures are used, including not clearly explaining job expectations to new hires and not appropriately testing applicants as part of the hiring process. Finally, TSA is not focused on career growth options for TSOs.

Kelley’s report then goes on to outline nine recommendations for TSA leadership to improve retention, including improving the hiring process, revising the exit survey process, considering pay increases, and standardizing the on-boarding process for new hires.

TSA leadership generally agreed with Kelley's recommendations, and updates to the audit are provided in the attachments to the audit at the link below.

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