TSA Career Path

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TSA Career Path

The Transportation Security Administration is the latest in a long line of government agencies created to protect America.

Created by Presidential Executive Order, President George W. Bush set into motion what would become one of the largest employers in America today–the TSA. The agency has had its share of controversy since it began operations on November 19th, 2001, but there’s no denying that this organization has helped make air travel safer for all Americans. But what does this mean for you? What are some common misconceptions about working at the TSA? And how can you get started with an application process? This blog post will answer these questions and more! Let’s jump right in!

1. What Is a TSA?

The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is a U.S. federal law enforcement agency created to protect America’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. The primary focus of the TSA is in aviation security–protecting aircraft traveling domestically and internationally from acts of terrorism that could cause disastrous loss of life.

The agency is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and under this umbrella is the Office of Security Operations (part of TSA’s workforce). The office oversees many security functions performed by different divisions within the agency, which include:

  • Federal Air Marshals Service
  • Transportation Security Support Staff
  • Transportation Security Officers
  • Federal Security Directors

The Office of Field Operations (OFO) is another division that’s part of the TSA. Its primary mission is to protect U.S. transportation systems by having TSA officers and agents secure airports, monitoring and inspecting passengers entering secured areas, and checking cargo and baggage for illicit items. With a workforce of 58,000 officers and agents–and an annual budget of nearly $7 billion–the agency has come a long way from its start in 2001.

2. What Are the Responsibilities of a TSA Officer?

Now that you have a better idea of what the TSA is, the next question to ask is what does a Transportation Security Officer do? The responsibilities of TSA officers can be found in their job descriptions.

The duties and tasks assigned to Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) include:

  • Data entering passenger information into the computer system
  • Screening passengers for potential threats using a variety of technologies
  • Searching checked baggage for suspicious objects and materials
  • Disrupting smuggling operations
  • Issuing citations to violators of federal laws
  • Operating advanced technology security screening equipment
  • Making recommendations on transportation security matters

TSOs also respond to emergencies with their local law enforcement counterparts. They may be called upon to identify counterfeit cards or licenses or provide technical support during national disasters. So if you’re interested in working towards making air transportation safer for all of us, then a career as a Transportation Security Officer could be right up your alley!

3. What Are the Educational Requirements of a TSA Officer?

Is education required in order to become a Transportation Security Officer? One of the benefits of applying to work at the TSA is that no degrees are necessary. However, there are some recommended educational requirements when applying for certain positions within the agency. For example, if you’re interested in working as an Explosives Enforcement Officer, then it’s recommended that you have at least 30 semester hours of college education in any field. This level of education is also recommended for applicants wishing to work as entry-level security screeners. However, if you’re interested in working as a baggage screener or Supervisory Transportation Security Officer, there are no educational requirements on record.

Typically speaking, most TSA officers start off as entry-level transportation security screeners. Entry-level Transportation Security Officers must be at least 18 years old, and they cannot have any disqualifying criminal or motor vehicle offenses. They also need to pass a medical exam conducted by the TSA, which may include an x-ray and drug screening–as well as pass a thorough background check. Transportation Security Officers must also be willing to work irregular or rotating shifts, and they’re required to pass a TSA-administered test that measures their ability to detect suspicious behavior.

4. How Does Someone Become a TSA Officer?

Someone can apply to become a Federal Security Director (the most advanced occupation) after at least two years of employment as an entry-level Transportation Security Officer (TSO). Many people think that TSA officers are federal police, but the truth is–although they’re required to have a background in law enforcement or criminal justice–they’re not actually law enforcement.

This is why a candidate must first work as a TSO for at least two years before applying for an F.D. position. An F.S. applicant’s background check must be at least final/unconditional, meaning they can’t have any pending charges–or money owed to the IRS.

Entry-level Transportation Security Officers (TSO) receive intensive training, consisting of classroom and on-the-job instruction in:

  • Preparing and screening baggage for explosives/bombs
  • Using electronic devices to screen carry-on baggage
  • Performing pat-downs of passengers and/or property

TSOs also receive on-the-job training in how to work the screening equipment. In this photo, a student TSO practices using a “wand” at a TSA security checkpoint.

5. How Much Does a TSA Officer Make?

As of May 2011, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Transportation Security Officers make an average of $11.59 per hour. The public sector pays a little bit more than private businesses for this position–on average, TSA agents working in the federal government earn around $12.27 an hour, which is higher than their counterparts who work in the commercial sector.

Entry-level Transportation Security Officers can expect to make $20,533– $24,813 per year working for the federal government, or approximately $10.90 per hour. After one year on the job, TSOs will advance to the GS-3 pay scale (approximately $23,292 — $26,133 per year), and they can expect a pay raise after every one to two years of service.

TSA officers also have the opportunity to earn additional money by working overtime or irregular shifts.

6. Can I Become a TSA Officer with No Experience?

Yes! There are currently job openings for TSOs at airports across the country, regardless of your qualifications.

There are currently about 50,000 TSA officers working nationwide, and the agency expects to hire thousands more before 2014. You can find job listings by city or state below ( click here ).

The positions listed above are entry-level positions; however, if you’ve worked in law enforcement for three years or more, you may be eligible for a lateral/transfer position. To find out if you qualify, check with your current law enforcement agency or visit the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

7. What Sort of Training Do TSA Agents Receive?

All candidates must complete a five-week TSA Pre screening course. This training program covers all aspects of aviation security, including:

  • Screening of checked and carry-on baggage
  • Detection and response to suspicious behavior
  • Identifying threats posed by individuals with disabilities or medical conditions

The TSA’s five-week Pre screening program trains candidates on how to use the latest technology. Candidates must also pass a drug screening, which includes an x-ray of their luggage.

8. What Skills Should I Have to Work for The TSA?

Applicants should be able to work well with the public, as most of their day-to-day duties will include “people skills.” They should also have strong attention to detail, as screeners are responsible for examining thousands of items every day.

To become a TSA Officer, you must be willing and able to learn how to use all of the equipment necessary to screen passengers and their belongings, such as:

  • Explosives detection machines
  • Advanced imaging technology
  • Canine units

Applicants must also be willing to work in a fast-paced environment, where they will have to deal with crowded airports and long lines. TSA officers often work irregular hours in rotating shifts, and they often work overtime to ensure that passengers are safe.

9. What Is the Job Outlook for a TSA Officer?

The outlook for Transportation Security Officer jobs is good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities in this sector are expected to increase at a rate of 1 percent through 2020, which is just slightly lower than the national average.

TSOs receive on-the-job training in how to screen luggage and passengers using state-of-the-art equipment, but they can also receive advanced training in how to detect threats or suspicious behavior.

Applicants should keep in mind that it’s not necessary to have experience working as a law enforcement officer to become a TSA Officer; however, TSOs must be willing and able to work closely with local police departments and federal agencies (such as the FBI).

They must also be willing to work irregular hours, including weekends, holidays, and overnight shifts. TSOs are often required to work overtime or “split-shifts” (two or more half days in a row) when airports are very busy.

10. What Is the TSA Pre-Check Program?

The TSA’s Pre-screening program speeds up the security screening process for pre-approved passengers who fly on a participating airline.

This five-minute in-line process enables pre-approved travelers to leave their shoes, light outerwear, and belt ON, as well as keep laptops in the carry-on bag. These travelers receive expedited security checks; they do not need to remove their shoes or coats or remove laptops from backpacks when passing through the screening checkpoint.

If you want to apply for TSA Pre-screening, visit your airline’s website and fill out an online form. Airlines that currently participate in the program include Alaska Airlines®, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and U.S. Airways.

11. How to Advance in TSA?

To advance in this career field, Transportation Security Officers must gain experience and develop their skills.

By developing their “people skills,” TSOs are able to move up the ranks in this growing industry. Some officers may eventually find themselves working behind the scenes or in administrative departments, but most will begin as a Transportation Security Officer and work their way up to Passenger Screening Supervisor.

The training received after becoming an officer will help individuals acquire the skills they need to advance their careers.

From there, Transportation Security Officers may find themselves in high demand because of the nature of the work that is done here.

12. What Are the Ways to Get Promoted?

According to The Balance, Transportation Security Officers may be promoted through security or law enforcement agencies or by transferring to a different agency.

A promotion would often require a change in location. TSA officers may transfer to an airport with a larger international presence, for instance.

As experienced Transportation Security Officers move up the ranks, they may receive higher pay grades and start at higher salaries (depending on experience and previous work history).


The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a United States federal agency that is responsible for security in transportation. The TSA career path offers many opportunities for individuals who are interested in working in the field of aviation and transportation security. There are a variety of different positions available, and the TSA is always looking for qualified candidates to fill open positions. If you are interested in a career with the TSA, be sure to check their website regularly for job openings.

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