The ad said: "TSA screeners wanted." I can do that, I thought. This was way back at the very beginning of the creation of the TSA. I needed a job and they needed a good pair of eyes, or so I thought. The online application for the federal position was easy, straightforward, very short. I received an immediate e-mail response requesting a testing appointment. I accepted the appointment, marked my schedule, and prepared to become a federal employee.
Or so I thought. The testing location was a small, obscure hotel out by the airport. It didn't say as much because the confirmation e-mail only gave an address. There were no courtesy directions, like "immediately look to your right as you're getting off the exit that you’ll be taking at 35 mph or you’ll miss the hotel." That would have helped a lot. I found the location and rushed up to the check-in area about one minute past my appointment time. I already felt like I had failed the test. A young woman sat behind a makeshift desk talking on the telephone, clearly a personal call. I admit I was a bit pushy. I tried to interrupt her conversation to let her know that I was here to take the test. We could both see the test going on in the next room. She waved her finger to indicate that I would have to wait. I waited. I had my confirmation letter on the makeshift desk. She took my paper and tucked her cell phone between her ear and shoulder blade. That move just never makes sense —to turn one's neck at a 90° angle to say "uh-huh, uh-huh." She perused my letter for a good minute, at an angle, and finally said, into the phone said, "Okay, bye." She removed the cell phone from between her ear and shoulder, but she didn't straighten her head until she looked very closely at my letter and at me and then very slowly ran my "credentials" through the time clock. Oh yes, I had already failed the test.
But I had made it this far and I was going to take that test no matter what. I would let them really regret not being able to hire me because I was one minute past the appointed time and I got off on a bad foot with the junior college student behind the folding table. TSA was going to have to think long and hard before not hiring me.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the testing room was that I was the only Caucasian female. This is not the first time this has happened, but I am curious if federal jobs, federal jobs which hold the security of our nation's transportation system in the palm of its hand, have such a dearth of white women. Just curious. And the next thing I noticed was the test had very little to do with language skills, communication abilities, eyesight, nerves, common sense, or integrity. And yet many of the people in the testing room, all who were taking the test, struggled. That really had me wondering.
Oh sure there were some images on a screen to classify, i.e. cylinder shape or square shape or rectangle or flat. That type of thing. There were no big words like octagon or silhouette. It was very easy and straightforward. Maybe every tenth or fifteenth question was a trick ethics question-something like: "If someone offers to give you directions, are you suspicious?" And the question arose again, slightly rephrased: "if you're lost, and someone offers to help, do you accept the help or do you refuse?"
As the test continued, the ethics/principles questions were more frequent and only every tenth or fifteenth question was a test of logic. I found it odd that there were no questions about focus in times of distractions, about making split second decisions. There was no test of nerve. Perhaps that was the next level before being hired. The ethics questions were not so much about character as personality. They were definitely looking for suspicious, non-critical thinkers, who were good at reading directions. At some point, I sat back, away from the test and considered leaving. This is not a job for me. And yet, I worried who it was for.
"If you are stranded in the desert and a stranger comes along with a bucket of water, do you drink it?" I have no idea what this has to do with viewing and quickly assessing hundreds and hundreds of total strangers, strangers who depend upon you for their safety. And any one of whom could possibly blow us all into a new reality. I don't remember any questions about determining an unsafe situation. I did notice there were no questions about people skills and interviewing styles and assessments. "If a blind elderly woman is about to walk into the crosswalk, do you stop her?" was not a question on the TSA test.
And I’m not saying that that question should be on the testing application for the TSA employees. Janet Napolitano’s problems with security breach did not begin in
I have traveled many times since taking that test that far away afternoon, way the heck out in some tiny crevice of the
Truth is this job is about national freaking security. And the requirements are to not trust anyone, ever. This is not an opportunity to be Donald Trump’s Apprentice. This is national security. The paranoid and dim-witted are scooped up to stand hours upon hours to look at us, to evaluate in one second whether we are safe to be contained on a tin-tank flying in the air for more than a couple of hours. There were problems with the whole approach from the very beginning. The original concept of TSA is flawed. This is not so much about individual security as it is about gathering secured information. And who best to execute such a crime against basic human privacy? That job would belong to the most mistrusting, defeatists, no-hopers available at any moment.
“It's just part of a pattern of we are not vetting these candidates clearly," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told Fox News. You’d think he was talking about the general intelligence, people-skills, and qualifications that TSA screeners possess in order to do the job effectively. No. Sen. DeMint has concerns that TSA screeners will unionize. And that would be really bad because it goes against oligarchy. I just don’t see a TSA Union as being anything other than complete compliant with the status quo. TSA has been in existence for less than a decade and they are already status quo. TSA screeners have to know about the long-term affects of over exposure to radiation scanners and they will simply not believe the studies or they value their jobs as being more important than their health. “Would you help a stranger?” TSA screeners are trained to be the new breed of the perfect victim of Stockholm syndrome, wherein hostages or victims have irrational positive feelings towards their captors and feel protective toward them.
It is a scary would in which we live. Let us not forget that we had a hand in creating this world. Let us not forget that we have a hand in creating the future.
I don’t know the answer. Truth be known, I don’t know enough to have a solution. None of us reading this will have enough information to effectively evaluate the situation. So let us begin with what we always begin with- awareness. It worked for Red Dye #5 and seat belts. Be aware that TSA employees can only do what it says to do in the manual. They follow directions without questions, they do not make decisions, and they will never ever utter an original thought. Now could you do that job?
By the time I found my way home from that spec of a hotel on the off-ramp out by the airport, the efficiency of the testing center was startling. I had an email confirming, in their to-the-point manner, the TSA will not be offering me employment. “Good luck with your future opportunities.” Na, it didn’t really say that.