Fox panelist's outrageous claim: TSA agents can make $175,000 "to pat people down"
Fox News panelist Gary B. Smith claimed that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents "can make up to $175,000 a year" "to pat people down." In reality, TSA personnel primarily responsible for screening passengers make between $25,518 and $44,007 plus locality pay, and even senior managers supervising TSA activities at entire airports earn up to the capped maximum of $172,550, including any pay received based on locality.
Smith: TSA personnel "can make up to $175,000 a year" "to pat people down." From the November 27 edition of Fox News' Bulls & Bears:
SMITH: I'm going to build on what Jonas says. You know, Jonas is like, "Oh, my gosh, they're paid less than park rangers." Well, go through one of those lines like, you know, any one of us here has and say, "My gosh," you know. We showed it on the screen. The average TSA employee makes $40,000 a year. You think that's $40,000-a-year job? And that's the average. You know that all the way up in the pay range, they can make up to $175,000 a year? To me, that seems a lot to pat people down and say, "You go through, you don't go through." That doesn't seem like that difficult a job, I'm going to be honest with you.
Reality: TSA officers who "pat people down" make far less than $175,000
TSA transportation security officer salaries range from $25,518 to $44,007 plus locality pay. According to pay scales available  at the TSA website, transportation security officers (TSO) are paid, based their assigned pay grades of D or E on the federal SV system, between $25,518 and $44,007 in basic pay. (TSA employees may be paid additional amounts based on their locality.) In a conversation with Media Matters, a TSA representative said that TSOs are the personnel primarily responsible for passenger screening, and that TSOs typically earn between $25,000 and $40,000 annually. From the job description  of TSO on the TSA website:
Implements security-screening procedures that are central to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) objectives and that will serve to protect the traveling public by preventing any deadly or dangerous objects from being transported onto an aircraft. Assists in conducting screening of passengers, baggage and cargo. May be required to conduct screening at any airport that provides commercial services to the public.
To receive basic pay above the E pay grade, TSO personnel must be in a supervisory position of increased responsibility. For example, a Lead TSO is responsible for training members of their team, and "Oversees the screening checkpoint on a day-to-day basis[.]" Lead Transportation Security Officers are paid at grade F, a maximum of $50,494 excluding locality pay. From the job description  on the TSA website [emphasis added]:
Identifies, distributes and balances workload and tasks among employees in accordance with established workflow and skill level. Makes adjustments to accomplish the workload in accordance with established priorities. Trains or arranges for the technical training of team members, monitors and reports on the status and progress of work. May approve emergency leave for up to three days.
Conducts screening of passengers and/or baggage, and/or cargo. Participates in information briefings concerning security-sensitive or classified information. Assists management with inquiries for information or investigations that may be initiated against a regulated party. Oversees the screening checkpoint on a day-to-day basis to include equipment with personnel. Schedules an adequate number of screener personnel to provide for efficient and effective screening of all persons, their baggage and cargo. Monitors the flow of passengers through the screening checkpoint to facilitate the orderly and efficient processing of passengers. Maintains communication with supervisors regarding any issue that might reveal a weakness or vulnerable area of security screening that is discovered in the course of screening duties.
Maximum total pay for any TSA employee -- including senior managers -- is $172,550. According to the TSA website, TSA employee pay is capped at $172,550: "2010 basic pay rates are limited to $155,500. 2010 adjusted pay rates (base pay plus locality) are limited to $172,550." TSA told Media Matters that salaries in that pay grade are reserved for senior management positions. TSA also said that this includes such positions as Federal Security Directors (FSD) and Assistant Federal Security Directors for Screening. An FSD is the senior manager responsible  for coordinating all TSA activities at one or several airports. An Assistant Federal Security Director for Screening is the manager responsible for "the full range of managerial responsibilities over a staff" of screeners, supervisors, and screening managers. From the job description  for Assistant Federal Security Director -- Screening [emphasis added]:
Incumbent will manage a staff of security screeners, checkpoint supervisors, and screening managers who conduct screening, manage screening operations, and administer laws, regulations, and policies pertaining to TSA's aviation security program. Specific duties will include: exercise final authority for the full range of managerial responsibilities over a staff in a 24/7 environment; make major recommendations concerning significant internal and external program policy issues affecting the overall organization, such as selections and process control; and develop performance criteria.