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Federal security team gets the wrong man

Michael Bills thought he had a pretty good gig with the federal Transportation Security Administration. His job as a screener at Love Field was government work--good bennies, nice retirement package. An ex-Marine and former quality inspector for a company in Garland before he was laid off, Bills says he even turned down other potential employers to stick with the TSA, where he worked for about 12 months.

Then the TSA fired him last October; said he failed to pass his background security check. Even worse, the TSA called him a sex offender--and worse than that, a child molester.

Except he isn't. The TSA--remember, these are the people who are supposed to weed out the terrorists from the regular airline passengers--got the wrong man.

"What hurt me the most is they accused me of being a sex offender," Bills says. "To me, that's the worst thing you can do."

Before we go any further, know this: Michael Shane Bills was arrested in 2000 on marijuana possession charges and was given probation in 2001, which he completed. That alone could preclude him from working for the TSA, but Bills says he noted the arrest on his job application and informed interviewers of the case.

No one objected then.

So, it took the TSA 12 months to tip to the pot case it was told about in writing, which it then listed as the reason for his termination. And it tacked on the sexual assault on a child charge that belongs to one Michael Douglas Bills. How does Michael Shane Bills know that? He used a marvelous new technology called the Internet and searched--get this--the Texas Department of Public Safety's sex-offender database, available to the public.

Andrea McCauley, a spokeswoman for the TSA, says that when the agency was formed, it faced hiring 60,000 screeners post-September 11. It did preliminary background checks right away, then worked to complete more comprehensive reviews later on, which explains the 12-month lag. Now, it does the full investigations upon hiring, she says. There have been other cases of mistaken identity, but the TSA has corrected those mistakes and reinstated the workers. Bills, however, signed a letter acknowledging the accuracy of the information, so his case is more problematic, she says.

Actually, Buzz has a copy of the letter Bills signed. His signature simply acknowledges he received it, not that he agrees with its findings. But Bills says his entire effort to correct the record has been something of a tragedy of errors, with TSA losing his paperwork in one instance. In another, the post office returned a letter he sent to an address listed on the TSA's own letterhead. It was the wrong address.

In any case, the TSA is part of the Homeland Security Department, and the 2002 law creating it exempted the department from many of the civil service protections afforded other federal workers. Bills contacted local employment lawyer Rob Wiley, who says Bills has no real recourse for getting reinstated.

Which is fine with Bills. "My main point is I'm not a sex offender. I really don't want my job back," he says.


Policy wank: In case you missed the news last week, The Associated Press reported that the three pharmacists at a Denton Eckerd drugstore who refused to fill a rape victim's prescription for a "morning after" birth-control pill were fired for violating Eckerd policy (see the January 29 Buzz).

As Buzz first reported--that's right, we're bragging--the pharmacists objected that the pill could "end life," and they were morally opposed to dispensing it. (In some cases, the pill works by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the womb.)

Pharmacist Gene Herr objected that he wasn't aware that Eckerd had a policy prohibiting its pharmacists from withholding drugs for "moral" reasons. "In my mind, if I agree to work for someone knowing that's their policy, then I should submit to that policy. But I didn't even know about it," Herr told AP writer Liz Austin.

Now, Buzz is admittedly weak when it comes to moral calculus, so help us with this one: Passing out the pill is tantamount to murder unless it's company policy.

Well, that certainly explains something Buzz was wondering about: If these pharmacists thought the pills were so bad, why didn't they flush them down the toilet to begin with? One possible reason: Eckerd takes inventory. See, it's a lot easier to take a moral stand on the backs of women who are unlikely to complain than it is to put your own butt on the line.

 
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