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TSA misconduct is up, but should you worry?

Travelers be warned: Misconduct cases among airport screeners jumped 26% in a recent three-year period.

But the chance of an airport screener pilfering a laptop computer from your bag is still slimmer than winning the lottery, according to the union representing Transportation Security Administration workers.

The debate over the integrity of TSA screeners heated up last week with the release of an audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which found 9,622 cases of employee misconduct among TSA workers from fiscal 2010 through 2012, with a 26% increase in incidents over that time. The audit scolded the TSA for having weak procedures for reviewing and recording the outcomes of misconduct cases.

The most common offenses among TSA workers -- 3,117 over the three years -- were attendance and leave violations such as unexcused or excessive absences or tardiness, according to the report. Only a fraction of the cases, 56 in total, were for theft.

Critics including Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) railed at the TSA, noting that 20% of the cases, or 1,936 incidents, were violations of screening and security rules, such as sleeping on duty.

“The report confirms our worst suspicions that TSA employee misconduct has spun out of control,” Mica said in a statement.

To David Borer -- general counsel to the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents TSA screeners -- the audit numbers paint a different picture.

The 1,936 screening- and security-related offenses average out to about 645 incidents a year, he said. With about 56,000 TSA workers across 450 airports, he said, the numbers suggest that only about 1% of employees were involved in such offenses.

The percentage might be even smaller because one employee could be responsible for more than one offense.

“That means that 99% of the employees don’t have any security-related misconduct,” he said. “That is an A-plus in most places.”

Crunching the numbers another way, Borer said the TSA screens about 657 million passengers a year. That means, he said, there has been about 1 security-related offense per 1 million passengers screened.

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