While 2021 was a challenging year for most, TSA’s Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) 24/7 Operations Team stood watch behind-the-scenes day in and day out safeguarding the traveling public.
During the annual Honorary Awards ceremony, TSA honored the 24/7 Operations Team with the prestigious Norman Y. Mineta Cornerstone Award – an award that recognizes an employee or team that shows exemplary leadership in helping TSA fulfill its mission despite adversity.
“I am extremely proud of our I&A 24/7 Operations Team for fulfilling TSA’s mission in the face of significant and ongoing adversity during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly after the events of January 6,” said I&A Assistant Administrator Nancy Nykamp. “Our team always goes above and beyond the call of duty every day, ensuring the safety of the traveling public in ways the public doesn’t realize.”
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol brought to light new challenges I&A employees never anticipated.
Instantly following the attack on the Capitol, Acting Executive Director for Intelligence Russ Vieco said the I&A team processed more than 400 watchlist actions – a 166% increase over their normal workload.
“To meet this monumental task, the watchlist team worked extensive hours, completing over two months’ worth of research in less than a month,” Vieco noted. “That’s a significant sacrifice, and I greatly appreciate that level of dedication from our employees.”
The team took personal risks and made sacrifices to ensure the mission of identifying and mitigating threats to the nation’s transportation system continued during trying times.
“Due to COVID-19 exposures and quarantines, [the 24/7 Operations Team] often became short-staffed,” Deputy Assistant Administrator Hao-y Froemling said. “[Employees] worked extra shifts to make sure we kept up with mission coverage [and] came together to support and take care of each other in addition to performing their jobs beyond all expectations 24 hours a day.”
I&A’s National Transportation Vetting Center, another crucial piece of the 24/7 Operations Team, also remained dedicated to TSA’s mission and duty.
“I feel the variety of work the I&A 24/7 Operations Team completes sets them up to face challenges nearly every day,” said Executive Director for Vetting Mike Turner. “COVID-19 caused the work to shift and increase in areas that are not typically heavy, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Do Not Board list passenger notifications and processing Transportation Worker Identification Credential cards so more cargo workers and truckers can be hired to clear shipping ports’ major backlogs. Every part of our larger team pivots to the next important task as soon as it is needed, and they work to be as efficient as possible. That hard work and dedication is what sets them apart.”
The success of I&A’s 24/7 Operations Team extends not only to its employees, but to the senior leaders who are committed to the workforce.
“Like any business, strong leadership at every level is what makes or breaks an organization,” Froemling said. “If employees don’t believe in the TSA mission or the mission of their section or division, they are unlikely to engage in their work and exceed expectations. Our I&A team has capable, agile leaders at every level who help us carry out our daily mission. The 24/7 Operations Team is at the heart of that work.”
Some might think maintaining a positive work environment would be hard in a job with
such magnitude and impact, but I&A’s 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results showed employee morale spiked.
“I&A’s robust employee engagement program, coupled with numerous other workforce initiatives, is fostering a work environment where employees feel they can be open and honest as well as offer constructive comments without bias to improve the organization,” I&A Employee Engagement Specialist Anita Pelley explained. “We’ve been successful because the entire I&A senior leadership team sincerely cares about what our workforce has to say and is committed to taking action.”
I&A Senior Executive John Beattie offered this advice for others looking to improve morale: “Continue to raise the bar in your respective area of mission or support. Cultivate an environment where we are all growing and learning together and working as a team to build and support a broader TSA enterprise to benefit each other, the agency and the traveling public.”
By Ariana Diaz, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs