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DHS Investigating Whistleblower’s Claims That TSA Denied Masks in Inventory to Employees Amid Pandemic Peak

A senior official at the Transportation Security Administration is claiming that the agency exhibited “gross mismanagement” in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jay Brainard, the TSA Federal Security Director in charge of transportation security in Kansas who’d been with the agency nearly 20 years, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that employees were denied access to a stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) and prohibited from implementing safety procedures, NPR reported Friday. The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) – the independent agency tasked with investigating such complaints – on Thursday concluded that a preliminary probe revealed a “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to open a full investigation into the matter.

In an interview with NPR, Brainard said that despite entire states shutting down due to health concerns, top administrators at the TSA consistently ignored pleas from security officials.

“Brainard says that in mid-March, he and other security directors at TSA asked for help on masks and were rebuffed. When Brainard asked whether he could mandate his workforce wear masks, he was told this was not permissible,” the report stated.

“When another federal security director asked in a March 12 email if the TSA could provide N-95 respirators masks they had in stock to employees, the request was denied without explanation.”

An email obtained by NPR showed TSA Federal Security Director Robert Krekorian telling senior leaders at the agency employees were asking for protective equipment, but there were no masks available for purchase. “We have N95 Masks in inventory,” Krekorian wrote. “May they be issued to requesting officers?”

“While we understand the situation, at this time, you cannot issue N-95s,” Krekorian was told.

Nearly 700 TSA employees have tested positive for the virus resulting in at least five deaths according to the agency.

Brainard further stated that local TSA security officials were not even permitted to require employees to wear face masks until a month after they began raising the issue. He also pointed out that agency officials did not mandate that TSA security officers wear masks until earlier this month.

In a statement to NPR, a TSA spokesperson said masks were optional for officers stationed in checkpoint areas until May, adding that gloves are also required while eye protection is optional.

[image via 41 Action News screengrab]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.