Imagine being a TSA inspector (TSI) in Birmingham, Alabama, and deciding one day to reach out to the agency’s Administrator and creating an instant connection.
That’s what happened to Emily Flechas, who is making a big effort to develop a culture in which TSA is not just a stepping stone for other government jobs, but a longtime landing spot for an entire professional career.
Flechas, an aviation TSI, conducted a developmental assignment and is working on a research paper through TSA’s Mid-Level Leadership Development Program that focuses on building careers in TSA with an emphasis on employee recruitment and retention.
“I want to develop a culture where when you join TSA, we’re not just a stop, a blip on the radar,” said Flechas. “There are so many opportunities here that officers aren’t aware of when they join TSA, and I want to see that growth.”
As part of her research project, she wanted to see the agency from the top, from agency leaders’ perspectives. So, one day, she reached out to Administrator Pekoske who replied the same day.
“I started thinking, ‘I can’t just go do a developmental assignment in TSA Policy, because to me, that’s not enough; that’s only one piece of the puzzle,’” Flechas recalled. “The only person I knew who had the whole puzzle, who was at the top, who dealt with all of this and knew all that was the Administrator.”
Due to his super busy schedule, Flechas was surprised to hear from Pekoske, whose leadership team brought her to headquarters for a week.
“He really does care,” she said. “TSA is kind of at a crossroads. We have a lot going on. We’re moving from this reactionary agency to an innovative agency. He’s looking toward the future.”
So is Flechas, who said she loves her job and truly believes in TSA’s mission.
Before having the opportunity to travel to the National Capital Region to meet with Pekoske and other top agency leaders, she said to herself, “I think I can do some good for this agency. If I got to meet the right people, I would be an asset to the front office.”
She spent one week of her developmental assignment at headquarters and three weeks virtually, meeting and sharing her thoughts on TSA’s career paths with several of the agency’s top executives.
In July, a new pay initiative takes effect that will bring TSA employees’ pay in line with their counterparts across the rest of the federal government. Flechas said pay equity is a huge step in making TSA a longtime landing spot for employees.
“With pay equity, I think people are going to be willing to stay longer,” she said. “They won’t need to search for other job opportunities, because they are getting paid well. So, they’re going to stay and keep climbing (the career ladder).”
She believes her research paper could have a significant impact on the agency.
“I want to see careers,” she emphasized. “I want to see the (new screening officer) still with TSA (years later), maybe my boss one day. I want to hear about more and more (TSA) federal security directors who started on the floor. I want to hear about an Administrator one day who worked for TSA. I want an agency where when I step through the door, I’m here for 20 years making it a better place. That’s what I want this paper to do.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs