Wednesday, June 15, 2005

TSA: 5.5 Billion Later and We're No Safer

Those long lines at airport security checkpoints and the billions we’ve spent on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) aren’t really doing a whole lot to make us safer. This is the point made by Anne Applebaum in her column today.

Test after test have shown that the federal screeners perform no better than did the private ones. That fact alone is enough reason to question exactly what the TSA's purpose is. But there’s more reasons to be annoyed.

There has also been a price to pay in waste...[TSA has spent] $350,000 for a gym, $500,000 for artwork and silk plants at the agency's new operations center, and $461,000 for its first-birthday party. More to the point, the agency has spent millions, even billions, on technology that is inappropriate or outdated.

Why again was it necessary to create another wasteful bureaucratic agency rather than regulate the pre-existing private companies? Well, Applebaum says:

[T]his isn't a country that has ever been good at risk analysis. If it were, we would never have invented the TSA at all. Instead, we would have taken that $5.5 billion [cost to create and fund the TSA], doubled the FBI's budget, and set up a questioning system that identifies potentially suspicious passengers, as the Israelis do. Even now, it's not too late to abolish the TSA, create a federal training program for airport screeners, and then let private companies worry about how many people to hire, which technology to buy and how long the tables in front of the X-ray machines should be (that last issue being featured in a recent government report). But every time that suggestion is made in Congress, someone denounces the plan as a "privatization" of our security and a sellout.

So, quite simply, having a federal agency take care of airport security makes us feel safer even if it’s not actually making us safer and is wasting millions of tax dollars. Obviously airport security is of paramount importance, but once again we are witnessing why government bureaucracies are not a magical solution

The long lines, the disrobing, the intrusive frisking—if it stops one attack, it’s worth it. But does the TSA have to be handling the screening? If they can’t train screeners any better than did private companies, why do they exist? It’s a questions we should be asking, but one I doubt our federal government will even think to address.


At 10:09 AM, Blogger Heiuan said...

Hmmm...good points all around on this one. I've been sort of thinking about this, especially as I've recently had to fly. I really only have an opinion on part of this issue:

1. Any employee of a private (corporate, non-governmental) security firm who puts their hands on me is going to be missing teeth.

2. Non-governmental security firms do NOT have the right and authority of arrest and seizure.

They are simply another big business. If they have reason to suspect someone, their only legal recourse is to call the proper authorities.

By using government agents, and yes the TSA is a government security branch, the government avoids these problems.

That's not to say that the agency isn't problematical, there are certainly problems and issues that should have been worked out prior to completely revamping our screening procedures.

We do have problems within the agency. I say, work on them and fix them. I personally prefer knowing that in the case of emergency the screeners at the security station have the authority to detain someone, if necessary.

Sorry to ramble on this, but its still rather nebulous even in my own mind, lol.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

I may be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure before the TSA took over, every airport had a fair number of local police who could hande any and all arrests.

At 10:51 AM, Blogger Heiuan said...

Alan, yes they did. My two little quirks are in response to the additional powers NOW granted to screeners...i.e. the invasive and/or strip search and detainment.

Before the new regs, the private company screeners didn't have these powers for a reason. They didn't need them and at that time, they would have been considered unlawful search and seizure.

If the need is there, then these intrusive privileges need to be restricted to our government, not be farmed out to some company who happened to be the low bidder on a contract.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Heiuan said...

Heh...maybe some clarification for my opinion is warranted.

I'm female. I don't want some private company drone feeling me up.

There it is, in a nutshell.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


You are right. Employees of private companies should not have the right to detain or search you (although private security guards at lots of places--think casinos--can do, but that doesn't make it right).

I think we really need to examine our whole process of pulling people out of line. Those who are pulled out (by a method that is a little more reasonable and useful) would then have to see a federal agent.

Good point.

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

The biggest security solution after 9-11 was merely awareness that such an event could happen. Now (hopefully) passengers will fight to prevent it from occurring and pilots won't open the cockpit doors. The element of suprise is lost.

BUT, if it did happen again and we hadn't tossed $5.5 billion down the toilet, the outrage that would follow would be immeasurable. "Why didn't you do something!"


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