WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nation’s 44,000 airport screeners would lose the title “officer,” their metal badges and maybe even the stripes down their pant legs under a bill sponsored by a Transportation Security Administration critic.
Called the “STRIP Act,” for “Stop TSA’s Reach In Policy Act,” the bill was introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, on Thursday in response to a series of alleged strip searches by TSA officers.
The TSA denies that strip searches were conducted.
“Congress has sat idly by as the TSA strip-searches 85-year-old grandmothers in New York, pats down 3-year-olds in Chattanooga, and checks colostomy bags for explosives in Orlando. Enough is enough!,” Blackburn said in a statement. “The least we can do is end this impersonation, which is an insult to real cops.”
The bill, which has 25 co-sponsors, would prohibit airport screeners from using the title “officer” and would ban them from wearing a metal badge resembling a police badge or a uniform resembling that of a federal law enforcement officer unless they receive law enforcement training.
When the TSA was formed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, screeners wore white shirts with embroidered patches. But in 2005, the TSA reclassified screeners as “transportation security officers,” and in 2007 introduced new uniforms in an effort to professionalize the workforce and boost morale. In 2008, metal badges were added to the uniform.
At the time, the association representing federal law enforcement officers opposed the badges, saying that they would mislead the public into believing the screeners had traditional police powers. Transportation security officers are unarmed, do not have arrest powers and cannot use force, the association said.
But the association on Friday opposed the changes.
“I think it is wrong to strip away the title. It’s not the screener’s fault,” said Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. “I think the bill in Congress should focus not so much on taking away a title but in assuring that the training and experience support the title. The answer is to build upon it; don’t strip it away.”
The union representing screeners called the bill an insult.
“Every single member of Congress should be supporting federal employees, not trying to demean them,” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
“Reps. Blackburn, (Florida Rep. John) Mica and their other cohorts in the House need to stop bullying the TSA workforce, and maybe just worry about doing their own jobs,” Gage said.
“Instead of actually helping to fight terrorism,” he said, “they are inspiring the type of unnecessary and disrespectful behavior by a few members of the public with an agenda that in fact diverts attention from securing American skies.”