(NEW YORK) — Hundreds of air passengers reacted following an ABC News investigation into theft by uniformed employees of the federal agency in charge of airport security, some saying they were victims of theft and were ignored by Transportation Security Administration officials.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called Friday for “a total reform and complete overhaul” of the TSA.
The ABC News report, which included footage of a TSA officer who appeared to have taken an iPad left behind on purpose at the Orlando airport, “is another eye-opening example of how this bloated security agency cannot properly recruit, train and oversee a ballooning 65,000 person workforce,” said Mica.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., a member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, said the report showed that the TSA had more than just an image problem.
“The bloated agency is so overwhelmed with managing its workforce that it has lost track of its real security mission,” Rogers told ABC News. “It needs to become leaner and smarter.”
Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said the case of the Orlando TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, has been referred to the U.S. attorney’s office for criminal prosecution and that any theft involving TSA personnel is “a key concern.”
“Our investigators have dealt with a number of theft cases while our auditors are currently examining the root causes and recommending deterrents to TSA management,” Edwards said.
The TSA said Ramirez was fired Wednesday, one day in advance of the ABC News broadcast, in keeping with its “zero-tolerance” policy for theft from passengers. Ramirez was the 381st TSA officer to be fired for theft, according to the TSA, and one of eleven this year alone.
The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.
Since the original report aired, ABC News has been flooded with hundreds of comments on its website and on Facebook from passengers, many of whom claimed they had personal belongings taken from their luggage.
Echoing similar stories, one woman wrote that she had a laptop stolen after TSA officers went through her checked bags at JFK airport in New York and said “the airlines and TSA have been zero help” in getting her things back.
Several said they opened their carry-on or checked luggage after a trip in the U.S. to discover their laptop, iPad or cameras were missing. One woman said that her 10-year-old daughter had all of her jewelry stolen.
Talon Windwalker told ABC News that after his Kindle went missing, no officials seemed to care.
“They were no help and basically just shrugged their shoulders. Didn’t even offer to take a complaint,” he said via Skype.
Dallas businessman Dirk Wenzlaff said he got the cold shoulder from TSA after his iPad disappeared from his checked luggage.
Using the Find Me app, Wenzlaff tracked the homing beacon on the iPad to TSA officer Clayton Dovel, who authorities said was found with at least five other stolen iPads when he was arrested.
The director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, Charlie Leocha, said the thefts in terms of dollar amounts are often minor, but still an irritation to passengers.
“It’s less the value, it’s the factor of being violated in some way,” he said. “It’s like you’ve got someone going through your underwear, for Christ’s sake.”
The Consumer Travel Alliance works closely with TSA, he said, and he urges travelers to always file a report with TSA and their airline when something goes missing.
“They are going to study it, and check into it. But you are not necessarily going to get any reimbursement from TSA” because it is often difficult to determine whether it was an airline or a TSA problem, Leocha said.
“In some way, passengers are kind of stuck, they really don’t have any specific rights when it comes to TSA or the airlines,” Leocha said.
For the ABC News investigation, iPads were purposefully left behind on 10 different occasions at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners. TSA officers at nine of the ten airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.
But when one iPad wasn’t returned from an Orlando airport, ABC News filed a missing property report but no other action was taken. It was only when ABC News tracked the iPad to TSA officer Ramirez’s home that it was recovered two weeks later. Ramirez claimed at the time that his wife had taken the iPad but was later fired.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ivaylo Vezenkov, CNN
Matt McFarland, CNN
Erin McClam, CNN