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TSA official: Issues overblown in the media

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A woman pushes her belongings through an x-ray machine to check for explosives at an airport. (Source: redjar via Flickr) A woman pushes her belongings through an x-ray machine to check for explosives at an airport. (Source: redjar via Flickr)
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(RNN) - The Transportation Security Administration has been under fire lately for a number of security slipups, but the organization's new deputy administrator said the criticisms are a good thing.

Coverage of missteps show that "we are policing ourselves," TSA Deputy Administration John Halinski said at a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing Wednesday.

The hearing was chaired by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-AL, who pointed out reports of Transportation Security officers stealing from checked luggage and sleeping or drinking while working as troubling signs that the group needs to beef up its internal procedures.

"This kind of criminal behavior and negligence has contributed significantly to TSA's shattered public image," Rogers said.

Halinski reiterated the TSA's commitment to eliminating bad employees from the organization, although he also called media reports on security issues overblown.

"Of the 600 million passengers screened on an annual basis, the TSA Contact Center receives approximately 750,000 contacts from the traveling public, of which less than 8 percent constitute complaints," he said.

He would not say definitively whether he felt criticism of the TSA was necessarily fair, noting that on some blogs, those who offered complaints didn't have to identify themselves.

However, despite the high-profile nature of certain TSA scandals, Halinski defended Transportation Security officers. He told the committee a majority of officers are good, hard-working people who believe in the administration's mission to protect American travelers.

To illustrate how few TSA employees are bad apples, Halinski compared the organization to a city.

"You're always going to have crime in a city," he said, adding that the goal is to stamp out crime, just as the goal is to stamp out criminal behavior within the TSA.

He continually referred to taking "appropriate action," when Transportation Security officers fail to perform their duties, but declined to go into specifics. He said it was important to take the details of a situation into account when choosing a punishment. However, he did give the committee an idea of the kinds of penalties officers could face.

"We will immediately fire employees who do things like steal," he said.

There have been a number of high-profile security issues highlighted in recent media reports. In June, eight Transportation Security officers were fired for sleeping on duty at Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey. In photographs, they appeared to be sleeping in front of monitors used to detect bombs in luggage.

In 2011, the TSA was slammed after the discovery of workers in Honolulu who were allowing bags onto flights without checking for explosives first.

The news hasn't all been bad for the TSA. Officers at the Miami International Airport saved a woman who had been kidnapped before her kidnappers could fly her to New York on July 5.

Halinski took over the job of deputy administrator on July 1. He joined the TSA in 2004. Before that, he spent 25 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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