Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - A House panel heard Tuesday that the Transportation Security Administration could save $17.5 million over five years if the agency had less-expensive workers conducting internal investigations.
Agency officials told the Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security they might be able to trim the ranks of 105 costly criminal investigators or replace them with less-costly workers, but that they must complete a workforce study first.
"We have an obligation to be as efficient as we can," said Roderick Allison, assistant administrator for TSA's Office of Inspection.
The hearing followed a September report from the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general about TSA's criminal investigators, who earn an average $161,794. These staffers are supposed to spend at least half their time investigating and apprehending criminal suspects.
But in 75% of the cases during 2010 and 2011, the inspector general found TSA's criminal investigators monitored the investigations of other agencies or investigated employee misconduct. Those sorts of positions could be paid less, according to the report.
"Specifically, we determined that using criminal investigators to conduct inspections, covert testing and internal reviews was not cost-effective because other employees who are paid less could perform the same work," said Anne Richards, assistant inspector general.
The panel chairman, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., said higher pay should go to workers who deserve it.
"What message does this send to law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe, or those who have lost their jobs due to budget cuts, if TSA does not play by the same rules as other agencies?" Hudson asked.
Allison said just measuring the number of non-criminal cases may be misleading because they might not require as much staff time as criminal cases. TSA is studying how many criminal investigators it needs, with results expected by September, he said.
"One hundred is probably not the right number -- certainly not zero," Allison said. "We're going to work and I assure you we're going to finish this problem."