Thursday, June 4, 2015

What Would HR Do….

With the TSA failure?


In almost any discipline, when a failure occurs (system, process, product), an effort is made to identify the source.  Root cause analysis is often employed (formally or informally) as a method for identifying the root causes of the failure. A factor is considered a root cause if its removal from the environment prevents the undesirable event from recurring; this is in contrast to a causal factor which is one that affects an event's outcome, but is not a root cause. Removing a causal factor can benefit an outcome, but it does not necessarily prevent its recurrence.

Human resources management is really no different when confronted with issues in the workplace. We try to identify the true (root) cause of failures within our workforce.  What would HR do if confronted with a 95% failure rate in our workplace?  What do we hope the powers that be at TSA will do?

This week a report was leaked that revealed undercover federal agents were able to sneak fake bombs and real weapons past TSA screeners with ease in 67 out of 70 “tests”.  Initial responses from TSA attributed the failure to both human and technological errors. This, despite the billions spent on both equipment and training of personnel. This also appears to be only the latest of several such failures.  In May, Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth revealed that his office had conducted a total of eight similar tests on airport screening operations since 2004 and turned up a number of security failures that persist today.  It has also been reported in recent months that hundreds of TSA employee security badges have gone missing at airports in Atlanta and San Diego. No one knows what has happened to them.

A Washington Post article quotes John Pistole, former head of the TSA as saying “The bottom line remains that it’s just completely unacceptable to have such a high failure rate.”  Pistole came to Washington to discuss the matter with John Roth (TSA’s Inspector General) and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. He went on to say “there’s no way [the Red Team] should be getting through as much as they did. Did the technology work properly? Were the [standard operating procedures] adequate for what the evolving threats were, and how did the officers behave?”

Pistole said Johnson would look at all three areas. “Is there a pattern of new employees, or are they senior officers and they’ve been on the job 12 years and maybe they’ve become complacent?” Pistole said. “Then you look at the technology. When was the last time the machines were recalibrated? Are they performing to specifications? All those things form part of that context in looking at this.”

This is certainly at least the beginning of a proper root cause analysis.  A causal factor may be TSA Administrator Melvin Carraway, who was reassigned on Monday to the Office of State and Local Law Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security headquarters.  Although I fail to see how reassigning him anywhere, let alone another law enforcement division, will positively affect any outcome.

Other immediate actions the TSA will take are reported to be:

1. Immediately revising standard operating procedures for screening
2. Conducting training for all transportation security officers, and intensive training for all supervisory personnel
3. Retesting and re-evaluating the screening equipment currently in use at airports across the United States
4. Continuing to conduct random covert testing

While passenger screening doesn’t appear to be up to snuff, DHS has found that checked baggage screenings are also failing to catch warning signs. A review released in September found “vulnerabilities” related to human error and technological failures, this despite $540 million for checked-baggage screening equipment and another $11 million for training invested since 2009, in addition to millions more on check point passenger screening and training.

Going back to asking what HR would do in a similar situation, when faced with an employee who fails at the job, or a task of the job, we often ask such questions as:

  • Did the employee have at least the basic qualifications (experience, education) to perform the job?
  • Did the employee receive the proper, or enough, training to do the job?
  • Was the employee provided with the right tools/resources to perform the job?
  • Was the employee corrected/coached upon any previous failures or deficiencies?  Was the employee given a clear understanding of what the expectations for performance are?
  • Was the employee informed of possible consequences for continued failure? Have any consequences been applied?

See where I’m going here?  While John Pistole’s comments in reference to analyzing personnel are on target, hasn’t this been done after previous failures?  What were the results of those analyses and what were the consequences?  What will be the results this time around, and what will be the consequences?   I have a pretty good idea of where I’d be starting to focus my attention in this situation.  What would you do?

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