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9-409-116R E V : O C T O B E R 2 4 , 2 0 1 1________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Professor Michel Anteby and Research Associate Erin McFee prepared this case. Some names have been disguised. HBS cases are developedsolely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective orineffective management.Copyright © 2009, 2010 President and Fellows of Harvard College. To order copies or request permission to reproduce materials, call 1-800-545-7685, write Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA 02163, or go to This publication may not bedigitized, photocopied, or otherwise reproduced, posted, or transmitted, without the permission of Harvard Business School.M I C H E L A N T E B YE R I N M C F E EMina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSAMina O‟Reilly‟s signature smile faded as she reread the details of yesterday‟s security breach atLogan Airport in Boston. As a supervisor transportation security officer (STSO) at Logan Airport‟sTransportation Security Administration (TSA), O‟Reilly had been summoned to manage thepersonnel issues in the role of one of her officers who enabled the security breach. The employeeresponsible for the breach, transportation security officer (TSO) Ludo Sanchez, had been under thesupervision of both O‟Reilly and one of her direct reports. From her desk, O‟Reilly looked out ontothe airport runway as she considered the situation. Just last week, the Logan TSA staff had receivedan award for exceptional performance in airport security—a reflection of exemplary execution ofsecurity strategies, given to only one U.S. airport and known unofficially as the “airport of the year”award. And now, this major incident.Sanchez was a valued employee who had left a career in sales to join the TSA after the September11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States. After eight years and several opportunities foradvancement, Sanchez preferred to remain a TSO on the front line working directly with thetravelers, rather than, for instance, overseeing a checkpoint‟s operations. His energy and enthusiasmwere infectious. O‟Reilly always knew what checkpoint he was working at as soon as she was withinearshot; Sanchez‟s deep baritone laugh wrapped around the travelers, soothing their anxieties aboutthe screening process. But his direct negligence and the resulting breach yesterday had generated a45-minute closure of the American Airlines side of Terminal B—one of the busiest areas of theterminal. The delay held up the departure of planes boarding at 5 of the 15 gates, adversely affectingthe schedules of airports across the U.S. and infuriating myriad travelers held at the gates while thecrisis was resolved.Although the incident was serious, Sanchez was just not any employee. He had that certain moxiethat made him magical at those checkpoints. Working side by side at the screening station with adozen or so of his peers, he was a great model for how to get the work done. O‟Reilly also trustedhim to ensure security. But that was prior to the breach. The TSA front-line employees wereresponsible for protecting national—even international—security, and to display lenience in aninstance of clear negligence could send the wrong message. O‟Reilly sighed and began pacing thecorridors of Terminal B. Not only were the eyes of her employees and superiors on her, but theairlines were looking for accountability as well. She had to move fast, as Sanchez was coming in for aFor the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-116 Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA2meeting shortly before his shift started at 4 p.m. She had to let him know whether or not he would beable to clock in.The TSA at Logan AirportThe TSA was formed in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks and was a component of theU.S. Department of Homeland Security. By 2009, the TSA employed over 50,000 security officers,inspectors, directors, air marshals, and managers responsible for the screening of all passengers andbaggage that entered 450 U.S. airports.1The TSA was created with the mission of “protecting the Nation’s transportation systems toensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” (See Exhibit 1 for the agency’s mission,vision, and values.) The agency prided itself on its steadfast commitment to its mission, asserting thatits success lay in a “Focus on the People.” The agency positioned careers, from the newly hired parttime employee all the way up to the administrator of the TSA in Washington, D.C., as opportunitiesnot just to perform a task, but to be part of a broader pursuit to defend the nation.For example, the TSA’s weekly bulletin, Evolution, available to all TSA employees, featuredpositive “Kudos & Clips”—a column dedicated to the recognition of exemplary service. More oftenthan not, this recognition came from public travelers so pleased with their experience that theyreported about security officers who went above and beyond the call of duty. Logan’s O’Reilly hadbeen featured on the page when she had spotted a person who had suspicious wires under severallayers of clothing. Passengers present at the time of the incident praised her keen eye and quickresponse. The organization’s website featured examples of such performance, namely, when TSAofficers identified individuals trying to document security procedures, spotted a set of throwingknives in a woman’s handbag, or stopped a passenger carrying a folding gun.2 (See Exhibit 2 for anexample of employee recognition on the TSA website.)Despite being only the 19th largest U.S. airport as measured by passenger volume, Logan Airportwas a key TSA location.3 Nestled near the heart of downtown Boston, it overlooked the water andserved over 28 million passengers annually. Because of its proximity to a major metropolitan area, aswell as its role in the September 11 attacks—both flights that crashed into the World Trade CenterTowers originated from Logan that morning—Logan was a critical TSA site. Many federal, state, andlocal organizations, such as the Massachusetts State Police and state fire and rescue departments,worked in concert with the TSA to ensure the security of operations at Logan. However, the TSAcheckpoint screeners were the most visible security presence at the airport.TSA Employees and CareersWithin the TSA, the entry-level position was the TSO, part of the screening unit of the agency.TSO’s annual salary was in the $25,000 to $35,000 range. (See Exhibit 3 for the organizationalstructure of the screening unit.) TSOs were a critical layer embedded in the middle of the “20 Layersof Security” the TSA had created to prevent lapses in traveler safety. They were responsible forscreening the passengers and their baggage and were also required to field endless questions fromoften weary, frustrated travelers. More novice travelers, for instance, were often afraid of missing1, accessed April 2009.2, accessed April 2009.3, accessed April 2009.For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA 409-1163their flights and demanded an expedited screening process. But even seasoned travelers got confusedand required assistance with the changing regulations governing carry-on allowances.TSOs were rotated throughout the screening station positions (such as operating the X-raymachine or checking travelers’ documents) in the course of their six- to eight-hour shifts in order toprevent errors caused by fatigue. The number of officers working at a screening station varieddepending on passenger influx but usually ranged from 5 to 12 officers. (See Exhibit 4 for a layout ofthe work environment.) The team’s objective was to maintain the integrity of the sterile areas past thescreening station and to ensure the safety of the traveling public. One officer highlighted her ownqualities and aspirations as a TSO:You have to have courtesy, patience, politeness, and an attention to personal appearance.While we are not directly responsible for managing any inappropriate behavior of passengers,we are the first line of defense in identifying suspicious persons. We then must notify our Leadimmediately so that they can send the alert up the chain. Even though we’re on a team, thework itself can be fairly solitary since we have little time to socialize among each other.The TSO job descriptions outlined both the opportunities and challenges of the position. (SeeExhibit 5 for an excerpt from the TSO duties and qualifications.) Besides undergoing an initialsecurity clearance process, TSOs were also subject to random and continual performance testing.Headquarters in Washington, D.C., sent covert operators to test the robustness of the screeningprocess without Logan’s advance knowledge. The senior staff at the airport also conductedclandestine audits. Not reliant on physical inspection alone, the agency also deployed threat imageprojection (TIP) software, which introduces artificial threats into the X-ray machines and records theaccuracy of response of the operators.Typically, TSOs could be promoted to lead transportation security officer (LTSO) within one totwo years, depending on their performance. Beyond the initial promotion, they could be promoted toSTSO after an additional one to two years of exemplary performance as an LTSO. In 2008, 6% of TSOswere promoted to LTSO, and 17% of LTSOs reached the position of STSO. Many initial hires weredeeply committed to the agency’s mission and slowly gained managerial positions. The followingquote is from one such hire:I used to be a supervisor at Macy’s [retail department store] until I was laid off; then Iapplied for a job as a TSO here. I was promoted to LTSO after just one year, and I find thiswork to be far more meaningful than my last job because it is contributing to protectingnational security. When you see a mother coming through with a baby—not that it makes herany more important as a passenger—but you reflect on why you’re doing what you do: tomake sure that baby gets from point A to point B without any problems.Shifting Labor DynamicsImmediately after the agency was created in 2001, it brought a record 50,000 employees on boardin less than six months. Retaining the hires proved, however, more difficult. By 2004, the voluntaryattrition rate of full-time officers had reached 18%.4 After the initial flurry of recruitment, the TSArevisited its vetting procedures for assessing the organizational fit of an applicant. To ensure thatmore recent applicants were aligned with the TSA’s expectations for the position, Boston hostedinformation sessions to provide potential candidates with a realistic and practical perspective of the4, accessed April 2009.For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-116 Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA4challenges pertaining to operations, scheduling, and testing. Along with that change, the TSA alsoeased into a more typical hiring lead time of four to six months for a candidate.While no single category of TSA applicant dominated the stacks of résumés, the profile of anaverage new hire gradually shifted to a younger median age. Many applicants were looking forexperience after high school or undergraduate studies that would parlay into a long-term career withthe federal government, although not necessarily within the TSA. While the enthusiasm of the initialjoiners often still prevailed in managerial ranks, by 2009, with U.S. unemployment on the rise, someTSO candidates seemed to see the TSO position as just a job or a stepping stone. As one typical newerofficer explained: “I like video games, so I don’t mind working the X-ray machine. I actually think mygaming talents come in handy with that. But I can’t stand dealing with the passengers—they can besuch jerks! Just last week one of them called me ‘fat, dumb, and ugly’ when I insisted he remove hisshoes for screening. I’m just doing my time here until I can get a better job at Customs.”Working for the TSA brought stability, and the agency positioned TSO jobs as ripe withopportunities for internal advancement. However, there were some challenges in attaining a positionbeyond the STSO level, as the number of available positions diminished exponentially beyond thatpoint. (See Exhibit 3 for details of the unit’s hierarchy.) Moreover, the TSA’s early high rates ofattrition had lately shown signs of abating. By 2008, the full-time officers’ attrition was down to 8.9%,thus reducing the opportunities for promotion.5Signs of a growing divide between the two waves of employees—the initial highly committedjoiners and the more recent hires—started to emerge. One senior TSO shared his thoughts on thedisparity between the two waves: “This is very serious business. When I first got here, I didn’t realizehow serious this is. There is no messing around here, because there are people out there trying to hurtother people. But nowadays, the screeners are whining all the time, and it is hard to keep themhappy. I don’t even think some of these people should be here. I mean, the long, late hours don’thelp, but I’m not here to pick up the slack of some kid who doesn’t like to get up early.”Mina O’ReillyO’Reilly was one of just over 100 STSOs at Logan Airport. She had joined the TSA in 2006 afterexiting a flagging entrepreneurial IT venture that she had started with her partner. Looking for a lifechange, she sought solace in what she saw as the rewarding work of protecting travelers. In her firstyear as a TSO, she exhibited the highest rates of success in the agency on the TIP software tests, aswell as a flawless record with headquarters and senior Logan staff-screening audits. Seeminglyimpervious to the late hours, O’Reilly quickly rose through the rank of LTSO to an STSO positionover the subsequent years.The LTSOs under O’Reilly proactively managed the integrity of the officers’ work, making sure nobag went unchecked and no passenger walked through without being physically screened andassessed. One LTSO commented in particular on O’Reilly’s vigilance: “She is omnipresent. Because Ido my job with my back to her, I know she sees everything. I remember when I was training an onthe-job trainee and she stepped in to point out the five things I missed that he had done wrong wheninspecting a person.”Cognizant of the fact that she had a long road ahead to reach a senior staff position, with fewerand fewer openings available up the ladder, O’Reilly considered every one of her decisions with5, accessed April 2009.For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA 409-1165great care. Several of O’Reilly’s equally successful peers had decided to pursue managerial careersoutside of the TSA, but she liked it here. Part of her enthusiasm for the job stemmed from workingwith people like Sanchez. Her recent memories of the stresses of managing groups of TSOs and arush of travelers made her sympathize with the LTSOs under her. She knew the shift was markedlymore manageable with employees like Sanchez on board.Sanchez embodied the values that O’Reilly espoused, and his tenure made him an invaluableasset for checkpoint operations. She knew he had been recertified two years ago due to poorperformance on screening audits, but she had always considered that an isolated incident on anotherwise strong record. The recertification process entailed attending extra training sessions andsucceeding on an ability test. This time, however, he had been on his cell phone with his daughterwhile at his post monitoring an exit corridor, which provided an opportunity for someone with ablue bag to rush in. To make matters worse, it was a traveler who had witnessed and reported thebreach some five minutes later when she finally got to the front of the line of passengers at thesecurity checkpoint. The terminal subsequently had to close for 45 minutes.Ludo SanchezSanchez was one of the first in line to join the TSA after the September 11 attacks. He had grownup in a military household and planned on following in the footsteps of his father. However, hesuffered a sports-related spinal injury in his high school senior year and was unable to enlist. Heinstead attended a community college near Boston and attained an associate degree in business.Sanchez worked summers as a leasing agent at a real estate company. The largely transient studentpopulation in Boston was significant enough to make the job fairly lucrative, so he stayed on fulltime. Eventually he worked his way up to become sales manager. The salary was enough to supportboth him and his 13-year-old daughter, Cheri, whom he raised on his own. But the cyclical nature ofthe sales put a significant financial strain on them in the off-season.Sanchez vividly remembers the morning of the attacks: sitting in his living room with hisdaughter, watching their old TV as the second plane crashed into the South Tower. It was the onlytime Cheri had ever seen her father cry. She sat quietly as he held her small hand. As soon as Sanchezlearned about the opportunity at Logan’s TSA, he applied and was hired within four weeks. Anytime he had been frustrated, fatigued, or fed up with the angry travelers or long hours, he justthought back to that morning in 2001. Sanchez knew every job of the TSO was important. But hepreferred interacting with the travelers and found it rewarding to be the first to potentially detect anysuspicious behavior.The BreachFor the most part, TSOs resolved their own security issues immediately, and at the gates. Eachgroup of officers had an LTSO and an STSO present, and the managers had sufficient latitude toresolve many security issues. However, in a situation where the sterile area of the terminal had beenbreached even for just one minute, the incident needed to be escalated immediately. In Sanchez’scase, the federal security director of Logan was on a phone conference with the heads of allstakeholders—government, law enforcement, and airlines alike—within four minutes of thepassenger alert.Sanchez had worked until 8 p.m. the night before the day of the security breach. He had startedhis second shift at 3 a.m. that Sunday morning. He had picked up a few extra shifts to begin savingFor the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-116 Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA6for the college education he hoped to provide for Cheri. At the time of the breach, he was remindingher to get her homework done that morning before he got home so that they could spend theafternoon together.The phone call only lasted a few minutes.6 It was just long enough to distract him. He never sawthe man run into the sterile area of the terminal past his exit station. It was only when anothertraveler notified the station’s LTSO that Sanchez learned of his error. His stomach tightened as hebegan closing off his station, launching standard procedures for securing the area, and sealing theterminal from further passenger traffic.Sanchez was fortunate. The man who had run in clutching the blue bag was eventually identifiedas an international traveler trying to make his flight. After reviewing the control monitor tapes,security was able to locate the gate he entered and have him escorted from the plane. The bag hecarried was passed to a flight attendant at the gate who had it transferred to the cargo hold. Four fullplanes waited at the neighboring gates as officers equipped with bomb-sniffing dogs located the bluebag and cleared it to return to the traveler after he underwent a background check. Even thoughSanchez knew the crisis had been resolved, he left his shift that day feeling horrible.Next StepsAfter a feedback report from her LTSO, O’Reilly was the one who had to decide what to do aboutSanchez’s role in Sunday’s breach. Her managerial authority extended to the officers working in hertwo assigned screening areas in Terminal B. All TSA employees working in her areas for a given shiftwere under her authority. In general, this meant approximately 25 TSOs and 2 or 3 LTSOs. Given theseriousness of the security breach and the fact that it was due to Sanchez’s negligence, O’Reilly couldtechnically terminate him. Another option would be to relegate him to a station that required a lowersecurity clearance. This usually meant being an exit lane monitor, ironically, the exact position wherehe chatted with his daughter.O’Reilly knew some managers in upper management would prefer to make an example out ofhim, but Sanchez was also one of her most committed employees. O’Reilly weighed her options:termination, reassignment to a lower security-level position, a verbal warning, development of aperformance improvement plan for Sanchez and his supervisor, or counseling and retraining.O’Reilly was torn, yet knew she had to do something. But what? The words of Logan’s federalsecurity director, who had been on the call yesterday and greeted her this morning, still resonated inher head. He explicitly asked her to handle Sanchez’s situation and added, “Mistakes are a fact of life.It is the response to error that counts.” Sanchez was scheduled to start his shift in a few hours.6 TSA policy forbids using cell phones on the job except in the case of personal emergencies after notification of a supervisor.For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA 409-1167Exhibit 1 TSA Mission, Vision, and ValuesMissionThe Transportation Security Administration protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensurefreedom of movement for people and commerce.VisionThe Transportation Security Administration will continuously set the standard for excellence intransportation security through its people, processes, and technology.Core ValuesTo enhance mission performance and achieve our shared goals, we are committed to promoting aculture founded on these values:Integrity: We are a people of integrity who respect and care for others.We are a people who conduct ourselves in an honest, trustworthy andethical manner at all times.We are a people who gain strength from the diversity in our cultures.Innovation: We are a people who embrace and stand ready for change.We are a people who are courageous and willing to take on new challenges.We are a people with an enterprising spirit, striving for innovations whoaccept the risk-taking that comes with it.
Team Spirit:
We are a people who are open, respectful and dedicated to making othersbetter.
We are a people who have a passion for challenge, success and being on awinning team.We are a people who will build teams around our strengths.Source:, accessed April 2009.For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-1168ExhibSourceit 2 Examp: http://www.tle of TSA Employppenings/0225ee Recogniti09_folding_gun.onshtm, accessed AMina O’Reilly april 2009.t Logan Airport’s TSAFor the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-116 -9-Exhibit 3 TSA Screening Group Organizational StructureTransportation SecurityOfficer (TSO) – 760Lead TransportationSecurity Officer (LTSO) – 148Supervisory TransportationSecurity Officer (STSO) – 102Transportation Security Manager(TSM) – 22Deputy AFSD (DAFSD) –Screening – 2Assistant FSD (AFSD) –Screening – 1Deputy FSD(DFSD) – 1Federal Security Director(FSD) – 1 FSDDFSDAFSD,ScreeningDAFASD,ScreeningTSMSTSOLTSOTravelDocumentCheckerX-RayMachineLTSOMetalDetectorSTSOLTSOExit LaneMonitorLTSOPat DownExplosiveTracingDeviceSource: Agency documents.For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-11610ExhibSourceit 4 Layout: Created by casof Security Sewriter based ontation Screenfield observatioing Areans.Mina O’Reilly at Logan Airport’s TSA
FoodCourtTravel DocumentCheckersTSOTravelersExit LaneMonitorRetailerX-RayMachineOperatorX-RayMachineOperatorX-Ray MachinesMetal DetectorsPublic ConcourseTSOLTSOTravelerDirection of trafficMetal DetectorX-Ray Machine
Pat DownMetalDetectorOperatorExplosive TracingPat Down Device Operator!Sterile TerminalAreaAreaXLTSOFor the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.409-116 -11-Exhibit 5 Excerpt from TSO Duties and QualificationsSource:, accessed April 2009.MAJOR DUTIES:You will perform a variety of duties related to providing security and protection of airtravelers, airports and aircraft. As a TSO, you may be required to perform passengerscreening, baggage screening or both. You are expected to perform all of these duties ina courteous and professional manner. The principal duties and responsibilities includethe following: Perform security screening:o Of persons, including tasks such as: hand-wanding (which includes therequirement to reach and wand the individual from the floor to overhead), pat-down searches, and monitoring walk-through metal detectorscreening equipment
Of property, including the operation of x-ray machines to identifydangerous objects in baggage, cargo and on passengers; andpreventing those objects from being transported onto aircraft
Control entry and exit pointsContinuously improve security screening processes and personal performancethrough training and development
TSOs MUST be willing and able to:
Repeatedly lift and carry up to 70 pounds;Continuously stand between one (1) to four (4) hours without a break to carryout screening functions;Walk up to two (2) miles during a shift;Communicate with the public, giving directions and responding toinquiries in a professional and courteous manner;Maintain focus and awareness and work within a stressful environment whichincludes noise from alarms, machinery, and people, distractions, time pressure,disruptive and angry passengers, and the requirement to identify and locatepotentially life threatening devices and devices intended on creating massive
destruction; and, Make effective decisions in both crisis and routine situations.Transportation Security Officer (TSO)QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED:Applicants must be proficient in English (e.g., reading, writing, speaking, and listening)and have a high school diploma, GED or equivalent; OR Have at least one year of fulltime work experience in security work, aviation screener work, or X-ray technician work.Applicants must also possess the following job-related knowledge, skills, andabilities (selective factors):PHYSICAL ABILITY: This position requires employees to be willing and able to:repeatedly lift and carry baggage weighing up to 70 pounds; bend, reach, stoop, squat,stand, and walk; continuously stand between one and four hours without a break to carryout screening functions; and walk up to two miles during a shift.COMMUNICATION SKILLS & PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS: TSOs are required tocommunicate with the public, giving directions and responding to inquiries in aprofessional and courteous manner. Applicants must possess customer service skills, bedependable and operate with integrity.FOCUS & MENTAL ABILITY: TSOs must be able to maintain focus and awareness andwork within a stressful environment. The position requires employees to make effectivedecisions in both crisis and routine situations. Necessary skills include visual observationand x-ray interpretation. The work environment includes noise from alarms, machinery,and people, distractions, time pressure, disruptive and angry passengers, and therequirement to identify and locate potentially life threatening devices and devices intendedon creating massive destruction.Top ▲For the exclusive use of X. Fu, 2021.This document is authorized for use only by XF Fu in 2021.

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