WASHINGTON – The government agency in charge of airport security spent nearly a half-million dollars on an awards ceremony at a lavish hotel, including $81,000 for plaques and $500 for cheese displays, according to an internal report obtained by the Associated Press.
Awards were presented to 543 Transportation Security Administration employees and 30 organizations, including a “lifetime achievement award” for one worker with the 2-year-old agency. Almost $200,000 was spent on travel and lodging for attendees.
The investigation by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, also found the TSA gave its senior executives bonuses averaging $16,000, higher than at any other federal government agency, and failed to provide adequate justification in more than a third of the 88 cases examined.
The report said lower-level employees were shortchanged, with a far lower percentage receiving bonuses.
“A substantial inequity exists in TSA’s performance recognition program between executive and nonexecutive employees,” the report said.
TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter said the agency believes the bonuses and party were justified “given the hours and productivity of the work force during this critical period.”
This year, said von Walter, the TSA will conduct awards ceremonies at individual airports, as well as a much smaller and less expensive event at its headquarters in November.
Congressional skeptics have criticized the TSA’s hiring and spending practices during its short existence. Republicans say the agency has grown far larger than they envisioned when it was created following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Ervin also is investigating why the agency’s private recruiters worked out of lush resort hotels with golf courses, pools and spas.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said that he had not seen the full report but that it indicated “a colossal waste of money.”
“There’s something terribly wrong with that agency,” Dorgan said. “Of all the agencies, that’s the one that’s supposed to be working full-time against terrorist attacks.”