HONOLULU The Transportation Security Administration said Friday it plans to fire 36 workers, including two high-ranking officials, and has suspended 12 others after an investigation found they did not properly screen baggage at Honolulu International Airport.
"This is the single largest personnel action at one time for misconduct in our agency's history," said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez.
The 36 employees were placed on paid administrative leave Friday, Melendez said. They include the airport's federal security director and the assistant federal security director for screening.
"They haven't been fired yet," Melendez said. "The process has begun."
Each of the 36 workers will have an opportunity to appeal.
The 12 workers suspended Friday were found to be less culpable, Melendez said. They will be allowed to return to their jobs after a suspension without pay for up to 30 days.
The agency began an investigation at the end of last year after two Honolulu TSA employees told officials that thousands of bags weren't checked properly or screened for traces of explosives. The employees were placed in non-security roles pending the outcome of the six-month probe.
The investigation was exhaustive and included interviews with more than 100 employees, Melendez said. It determined that some checked bags during one shift at the airport were not properly screened.
"A small percentage of commercial flights departing Honolulu were affected by this," Melendez said. "This group of officers intentionally did not screen bags according to proper procedure."
The Honolulu airport has 750 TSA employees.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents TSA workers, said the employees who are under fire faced pressure to make sure flights departed on time.
"While no one condones compromising security measures designed to keep the traveling public safe, it is NETU's understanding that pressure from airlines and supervisors to ensure that morning international flights departed from Honolulu on time led to the events triggering the investigation and resulting discipline," said Colleen M. Kelley, union president.
She said the investigation illustrates the need to provide the TSA with sufficient resources and personnel.
TSA management-level staff and National Deployment officers have been temporarily assigned to the airport to make up for the loss of the 48 employees, Melendez said. Hiring of permanent replacements is to begin in the coming weeks.
In July 2007, the TSA named Glen Richard Kajiyama as the airport's federal security director. On Friday, Deputy Area Director Stanford Miyamoto was named acting federal security director.
Prior to joining the TSA, Kajiyama was deputy chief of administrative operations for the Honolulu Police Department, according to a 2007 TSA news release touting his local law enforcement experience working on personnel issues. A woman who answered the phone at his home Friday said he had no comment. The woman hung up without giving her name.