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editorial

TSA should explain its moves to prevent racial profiling

Holiday travelers passing through checkpoints at Logan Airport may be surprised when Transportation Security Administration agents ask them questions like, “Where will you be staying while you’re away?” The thing most airline passengers remember about Logan’s controversial behavior-detection security program is that it was put on hold after the TSA officers asking those questions were accused of racially profiling passengers. In fact, TSA quickly restarted the pilot program after the officers attended a four-hour session on why racial profiling is unacceptable.

If travelers are still uneasy about the program, it’s partly because TSA officials haven’t made the case why it’s effective, especially after the troubling accusations. TSA still owes the public some answers: How effective has the program been in stopping terrorism? How will TSA know if racial profiling has stopped? And how confident are TSA officials that one session of sensitivity training will curb incidents of racial bias?

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Likewise, TSA hasn’t properly explained to the public the outcome of investigations and disciplinary procedures that were triggered earlier in the fall when 20 of its Logan employees were flagged for failing to do their jobs properly. Those infractions ranged from egregious to embarrassing: Some screeners were fired for using cell phones and other electronic devices while they were supposed to be closely monitoring baggage x-ray machines; others were punished for work they failed to carry out, like manually inspecting bags containing dense objects that x-rays can’t identify; and others were punished for covering up the misdeeds of their co-workers. Of the 20 employees in question, six were eventually fired. But 14 are back at the same jobs. Although the workers did complete suspensions ranging from 7 to 30 days and undergo additional training before resuming their jobs, the TSA should explain why it believes such punishment was sufficient.

The agency also should consider having regular audits throughout the year. Instead, TSA relies primarily on smaller check-ups carried out on a daily basis. But TSA can and should do both.

TSA has pointed out that the racial profiling allegations and the on-the-job errors were two unrelated events concerning different sets of employees. But in the public’s mind, they seem more like bookends propping up the same ongoing concern: whether Logan Airport’s security apparatus is really cut out for the job. By most measures, TSA has made great strides over the last decade in improving airline safety. But when events occur that mar that trust, a full and open explanation is both fair and necessary.

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