Scrutinizing the Scrutinizers: Airport Screeners Dislike Pass-Fail Tests

Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by Mike, Feb 1, 2013.

  1. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    I quoted one section but the article covers a lot more. It was written by a six-year screener @ SNA.

    Labor Notes: Scrutinizing the Scrutinizers: Airport Screeners Dislike Pass-Fail Tests

    Currently TSA officers are subjected to three separate tests to ensure competence. It often takes nearly half a year to assess each officer.

    The consequence for failing any one of these tests is termination. Two of the three have been highly criticized by TSA officers: a practical skills examination (PSE) and a quiz called the Screening Operations Procedures Assessment (SOPA). The third test is an X-ray imaging test called the Image Mastery Assessment.

    The PSE is a hands-on demonstration of various procedures officers do at airport checkpoints, like pat-downs and bag checks. Officers are in a room with two management-appointed testers and must demonstrate proficiency and commit no so-called “critical errors.” A critical error results in a failure.

    The controversy among TSA officers is that if an officer claims to have done a complete procedure but the management-assigned tester says he did not, the tester’s word is taken. Calls to have the examination videotaped to allow an “instant replay” have been road-blocked.

    The SOPA is a 30-or-more-question, multiple-choice quiz. It is controversial among TSA officers because many questions are ambiguous, making it tricky to identify the best answer, and because some questions don’t seem relevant to security in the first place.

    Federal law prohibits citing an example, since the test questions are labeled Sensitive Security Information. But imagine a police officer being quizzed: How many officers can pursue a suspect? Imagine the police officer‘s rulebook being so sloppily written that in one section one answer is given but another section with a different scenario gives a different answer. What is the officer to mark as a reply?

    Checkpoint TSA officers get one quiz; baggage TSA officers another; “dual function” officers get more questions. Missing a percentage of answers means failure.

    The X-ray imaging test is less controversial. At many airports, officers are allowed to practice on TSA software to prepare. (While there is equivalent preparation for the PSE, none exists for the SOPA.) However, the preparation software is to the actual X-ray test as a Dr. Seuss book is to a John Steinbeck novel. And the difficulty of the tests seems only to increase.

    Again, failure to identify a percentage of images correctly is a failure. This seems like a reasonable consequence for TSA officers hired to screen passengers and baggage, but I am reminded of my college biology course. The professor made it clear from day one that this biology course was for liberal arts and fine arts students, not for aspiring doctors. It was to meet a university requirement and to give us a good foundation in science. If this same professor had given us as a final exam his tests from his pre-med course, we would have largely failed.

    Does the TSA want liberal arts students or pre-meds? The hiring, training, and tests need to conform to clear standards.


    Which begs basic questions about the testing protocols. If the TSA were really that concerned with competence, wouldn’t it recruit former law enforcement officers, explosives experts, and military police, and pay them commensurate to their skills—rather than hire young high-school graduates and then submit them to a battery of tests?
  2. That's an impressive article. Explains that whole test cheating scandal a while back, when they were bribing the trainer -- I don't really blame them if this story is correct about the test being so poorly designed.

    The one part of the article I quibble with is here, about the TSA's hiring strategy:

    This list is way too honorable, IMO. He forgot the people who responded to pizza box ads. This list doesn't account for the meth cookers, the drug smuggling hoochie mamas, the pimp of the prostitution ring, the guy who stuck ipads in the secret pocket he sewed into his pants, etc., etc., etc... (ETA to my list, not to mention the HHMD rapist woman Sommer Gentry encountered, the "Heads Up, Got a Cutie For You" types who came to light in the backscatter era, the myriad crotch karate choppers, the sicko chick who insisted that one woman had a protrusion coming from her vagina, the smurfette who went ape-(expletive deleted) on the little girl who hugged her grandma, the sadistic freaks in PHX who criminally harassed Stacey Armato over breastmilk, etc., etc., etc.)
  3. RB

    RB Founding Member

    Must be tough to be required to demonstrate job skill proficiency. Poor TSAholes.

    Reminds me of my Flight Engineer training. Class size started with 11, 3 completed.
  4. I do think it's telling about the agency's overall approach -- hire a bunch of people unprepared to do a job, train them minimally, and then test them at a level they're incapable of passing without cheating, and with a one-strike-you're-out policy. Such rigorous standards make sense if you're trying to weed out everyone but the best and brightest, you're training them well before you test them, and your test matches what they've been trained on and are capable of. What TSA appears to be doing here is the bizarro version of your flight engineer training: weeding out the people who try to pass the tests honestly, leaving the morally bankrupt ones who find a way to scam their way through.

    Of course, if these are good, moral people they should just say "screw you" and quit. They're certainly still responsible for their own decisions and actions. But if this article is accurate, it certainly explains a lot about the current state of affairs at the TSA.
  5. RB

    RB Founding Member

    I'm sure the ones that don't quit are trying to make a difference.
  6. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    I though it was noteworthy that the management appears not to want to be held accountable by recording video of the tests, more circumstantial evidence that TSA's aversion to video (despite their written policy) emanates from the top.
    KrazyKat likes this.
  7. RB

    RB Founding Member

    video = accountability. TSA fears being held accountable for anything.
    KrazyKat and TravelnMedic like this.
  8. FliesWay2Much

    FliesWay2Much Original Member

    First of all, Lowell B. Denny, you jackwagon, you are wrong:

    SSI is an invention of the TSA.

    Overall, you would think that TSA clerks are handling nuclear weapons instead of shampoo.
    TravelnMedic and phoebepontiac like this.
  9. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    Actually the FAA created and used the designation SSI for years before DHS/TSA were even in existence. DHS and TSA have made it an integral part of their systems, but it was in play long before there was even the idea of TSA.
  10. RB

    RB Founding Member

    Was the manner of testing described accurately?
  11. Caradoc

    Caradoc Original Member

    I doubt it. The description came from someone who claims to be/have been a TSA employee - which should automatically lead to an assumption that they're lying or exaggerating for the simple reason that if they didn't, they'd be unemployed.
  12. FliesWay2Much

    FliesWay2Much Original Member

    My point was that lots of federal agencies use a contrived restriction on information without constraint of federal law. I'm sure you've heard of others: FOUO, SBU, Predecisional, Embargoed, etc. There is no federal law that governs how this type of information is created, handled, or released. There is an executive order dealing with real classified information, but not this stuff. Pissy or any other TSA employee could decide that the TSA HQ cafeteria menu is SSI and get away with it.

    A second reason for the TSA's SSI is to enhance morale by providing something the clerks can feel special about and play "I've got a secret." with passengers and the general public.
    phoebepontiac likes this.
  13. Caradoc

    Caradoc Original Member

    I'm pretty sure that's the primary reason.
  14. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    As written above, it is pretty close, I have different testing protocols as a BDO, but based on my memory from previous testing, it sounds pretty close (some things have changed).
  15. RB

    RB Founding Member

    I'd be interested in so-called BDO testing. The whole thing is a sham so how can any real testing be done?
  16. Caradoc

    Caradoc Original Member

    The testing would be just as much a sham as the so-called "science" that the TSA's "behavioral detection" is based on. The Nature article was quite telling.

    And anyone willing to call themselves a "BDO" is worse than the average TSA thug.
  17. nachtnebel

    nachtnebel Original Member

    well, you get this crystal ball, see, and ask them to peer deeply into it....
  18. RB

    RB Founding Member

    Thought it was one of those magic 8 balls with answers for everthing, same reliability as TSA's BDO scam.
  19. N965VJ

    N965VJ Original Member

    Where was it that some local TSA employee's retirement party announcement ended up as SSI because it was on a boilerplate form? :rolleyes: PHX or LAS, I think.
  20. Oh my gosh, Rugape's a BDO? There's a BDO here among us? Quick Rugape, how many fingers am I holding up?
    DeafBlonde likes this.

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