Day in the life: TSA transportation security specialists

Thursday, September 15, 2022
Group photo

TSA goes global every day, and two of the agency’s transportation security specialists (TSSs) are right in the middle of our international security efforts.

Amanda Sanger and Albert Klukowski spend much of their time on the job overseas, connecting with many of TSA’s international partners and leading aviation security assessments and inspections.

Amanda Sanger

Amanda Sanger photo
Supervisory Transportation Security Specialist Amanda Sanger (Photo by Don Wagner)

With 36 years of specialized experience in the aviation industry, Sanger serves as a supervisory TSS overseas with her latest stop in Abu Dhabi. She said the importance of a TSS’ job is to ensure the appropriate security for our domestic and foreign partners flying into the U.S.

“We not only want to ensure that the American public are safe, but also those traveling to the United States on a foreign or domestic carrier,” said Sanger. “When we come out to the international locations, we want to ensure that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards and recommended practices are being applied so that aircraft crew and passengers are safe. So, when (the flight) is coming to the United States, we know it’s in safe hands.”

Sanger admits that some foreign air carriers aren’t where they should be (in terms of security standards), and it’s the job of TSSs like her to help mitigate those vulnerabilities and offer some assistance.

“We offer ideas, best practices,” she said. “When we look at the air carriers, foreign and domestic, we ensure they’re upholding the compliance or implementing the plans for the standard operating procedures they agreed to follow.”

Sanger said she and her team work closely with international industry representatives and with TSA representatives known as TSARs, and over 100 TSSs visit hundreds of airports around the globe.

“As we’re planning our trips, we’re in constant communication with our international industry representatives and TSARs to ensure the communication is there, and we’re relaying the policy and procedures in any mitigating or any vulnerabilities,” she said.

Sanger calls her job “probably the most rewarding I’ve had in the agency.”

“My favorite part is going out and building relationships with airport stakeholders, the airport authority, the air carriers,” Sanger said. “Once you build that relationship, they understand our goals are the same. We want a safe and secure transportation system.”

With her extensive time overseas, she admits the job isn’t for everybody.

“It can be very tough,” said Sanger. “My family all stays behind. It’s hard to leave my family behind. You have to have a strong relationship with your family and a very supportive family to be able to go that far away.”

However, she said she’s been fortunate to visit over 40 countries during her career, and she’s enjoyed every one of them.

“Being an international TSS, you really have to enjoy learning and exposing yourself to foreign cultures, foods, histories and people,” Sanger noted. “You really have to have that desire to go out and learn, experience.”

For people interested in advancing their professional careers, she said the keys are networking and mentoring. “Learn as much as you can. Have mentors. If you are mentoring and supporting someone, and they grow and move on to something else, that is very rewarding.”

Albert Klukowski photo
Transportation Security Specialist Albert Klukowski (Photo courtesy of Albert Klukowski)

Albert (Al) Klukowski

TSS Klukowski is based out of the Dallas Regional Operations Center and works with teammates to conduct assessments of international airports in Canada, Mexico and Central America. He has over 25 years of domestic and international aviation security experience and currently manages the Foreign Airport Assessment and Inspections Course (FAAIC) for new international TSSs, TSARs and TSA inspectors.

“This job is probably the most rewarding I’ve had in the agency,” said Klukowski whose journey in the federal government began in 1993. “It’s really been eye-opening over the years and the number of countries I’ve visited to be able to see how different airports implement the standards and recommended practices. It’s much more of a security philosophy than a standard or requirement like we see here in the U.S.”

It’s always a team effort. Sometimes, Klukowski is a team leader. Sometimes, he’s a team member.

“We’re all certified as team leads,” he said. “We go out as a team. We do not fly solo. We are a functioning team the entire time we are on ground in a country. We have to be, because we have to rely on each other to get all the information needed.”

Klukowski said he’s been to airports around the world where TSA’s recommendations and partnerships have completely turned their operations around and brought them into a state of compliance with ICAO standards and recommended practices.

2nd group photo
From left, Department of State Diplomatic Security Service Agent Guillermo Morales, TSS Albert Klukowski, Supervisory TSS James Cardwell, Honduran División de Seguridad Aeroporturia (DSA) Public Affairs Specialist Ivette Lucia Alvarado Reyes, Airport Manager Captain Ulloa Aguilar, Operations Manager Major Joove Mendez, Airport Supervisor Joove Raudaleg. (Photo courtesy of Albert Klukowski)

“To me, that’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve had with this job,” he emphasized.

Klukowski said he and his team are usually out of the country for about a week at a time and typically take one trip a month.

He strongly believes time management and attention to detail are incredibly important for TSS job success. He also said international TSSs are always on the go.

“You are expected to, at a moment’s notice if need be, pack up and go somewhere,” said Klukowski. “We have three days to do an (international airport) assessment, and sometimes that requires rather lengthy days. It’s not uncommon to have a 14- to 16-hour day. The same with inspections. We do not have the ability to go back time and again to follow up on issues we might encounter. So, we have to find them and fix them on the spot.”

He also explained TSA can’t require a host airport in another country to do anything. TSA has to work and partner with the airport, and then TSSs must do their best to bring foreign airports to where their transportation security should be. Klukowski calls it a “process of negotiation.” He said the attitude of an international TSS is one of negotiation rather than regulation. 

As the course manager for FAAIC, he is able to share his experiences with TSA personnel who operate in the international arena. 

“It’s definitely (a job) in which I have found a deep personal sense of accomplishment over the years,” he said. “I have made a lot of friends, and being the course manager is something I wanted to do. I like to teach. I want to share my knowledge with as many people who would like to hear it, because that’s the only way we’re going to grow.”

 By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: TSSs Sanger and Klukowski participated in one of a series of Day in the Life panel discussions facilitated by Women Excel@TSA, an employee advocacy council born of the desire to present a unified body of individuals interested in the retention and cultivation of female talent within TSA.