Bad Systems in the News: PHX TSA
Here's another story from last week about bad systems, and bad management to boot. This one hits close to home since I used to fly out of Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport quite regularly.
In the first linked article, the local Phoenix ABC affiliate did an investigative piece about how the “secure” terminal was basically left wide open all night, with guards who were either sleeping or not checking people who came through. Part of the story:
“We've discovered a 4.5 hour time frame each night when virtually anything can be brought into the secure side of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. There's no metal detector, no X-ray machine, and it's apparently not a problem.
Afraid to show her face, one long time Sky Harbor employee talks about the security most people don't see.
Lisa Fletcher: “You're telling me Sky Harbor's not safe?”
Employee: “I'm telling you Sky Harbor's not safe and hasn't been for a long time.”
It's what we discovered in the middle of the night – TSA agents going away, and security guards taking over. It's 4.5 hours – every night – when an employee badge becomes an all-access pass.”
What makes this a “bad system?” The fact that so many employees knew about this glaring weakness and TSA management did nothing about it. Apparently, the TSA isn't a “Lean” organization where management appreciates employees bringing up problems. It's probably more of a “keep your mouth shut” environment, I'd guess. It's a bad security system, on the surface, but deeper (and more importantly) it's a bad management system.
I'm sure employees tipped off the TV station, who came to watch:
“In the time we watched, dozens made it past this checkpoint, bags unchecked.”
Yikes! The station claims that airport officials had known about the security problems for TWO YEARS.
The airport employee we talked with said she is afraid.
“No one's doing anything about it,” she said. “Management knows. I know management knows. I know my superiors know. I know the security guards know. Everybody knows what's going on, but nobody's doing anything about it.”
I wonder how high the “chain of fear” runs? Why wasn't anyone willing or able to step up and say “we have a problem, we need help”? Here's an illustration of what happens when an organization's people are afraid to speak up. Deming always said that management needed to eliminate fear from the workplace. I think that might have helped the TSA.
So, as the second linked article says, the Phoenix TSA director was placed on administrative leave as they investigate. I wonder if the TSA will just blame that person or look for more systemic causes for the inaction? Why stop at just the local Phoenix level? Who knew, higher up in the TSA?
The response from the TSA and the City of Phoenix (scroll down in the second link) has a lot of doublespeak. No rules were being violated, but they're changing the practices to make sure the terminals are secure 24/7.