Incompetent TSA Going Away

The Transportation Security Agency, which has been mismanaging airport security since 9/11, is in turmoil and is being relegated to an administrative role. Airport security is becoming increasingly privatized, which is where we were before 9/11.

Air Security Agency Faces Reduced Role (WaPo, A1)

The Transportation Security Administration, once the flagship agency in the nation’s $20 billion effort to protect air travelers, is now targeted for sharp cuts in its high-profile mission. The latest sign came yesterday when the Bush administration asked David M. Stone, the TSA’s director, to step down in June, according to aviation and government sources. Stone is the third top administrator to leave the three-year-old agency, which was created in the chaos and patriotism following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The TSA absorbed divisions of other agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, only to find itself the subject of a massive Department of Homeland Security reorganization.

The TSA has been plagued by operational missteps, public relations blunders and criticism of its performance from the public and legislators. Its “No Fly” list has mistakenly snared senators. Its security screeners have been arrested for stealing from luggage, and its passenger pat-downs have set off an outcry from women.

Under provisions of President Bush’s 2006 budget proposal favored by Congress, the TSA will lose its signature programs in the reorganization of Homeland Security. The agency will probably become just a manager of airport security screeners — a responsibility that itself could diminish as private screening companies increasingly seek a comeback at U.S. airports. The agency’s very existence, in fact, remains an open question, given that the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security contains a clause permitting the elimination of the TSA as a “distinct entity” after November 2004.


The government has pumped more money into airline security than any other Homeland Security effort. Much of it goes toward salaries for more than 45,000 security screeners at over 400 airports. Travelers know the TSA mostly by its operations at the airport security checkpoint, a highly public role that magnifies the agency’s smallest blunders and often forces it to defend itself. “Most Republicans didn’t want to create this [agency] in the first place. Democrats see security as an easy target. So you don’t have anyone to defend it,” said C. Stewart Verdery Jr., a former assistant secretary for policy and planning at Homeland Security’s border and transportation security directorate, which includes the TSA. “If someone sneaks a knife through an airport, it makes the news. If the Coast Guard misses a drug boat, no one hears about it.”

MSNBC also has coverage.

The idea that airport security would get better when handled by government employees was always dubious. People who drew analogies to law enforcement, arguing that we would never privatize the FBI, missed the point. Screening people’s bags at airports is a tedious, thankless task. The TSA was never going to draw the caliber of people that the FBI does. The same type of people are going to be attracted to the job in any case; the only difference is the uniform and source of the paycheck.

Kevin Aylward notes,

From a logical and practical perspective it’s always seemed to me that the TSA was a giant public funded placebo. Security wasn’t much better, even with that addition of several more layers of screening and technology.

The 9/11 hijackers commandeered planes with box cutters; but do you think that could happen again today? Probably not, but not because of the billions spent on the TSA or changes to the screening process. The real change is that airline personnel and the flying public are much more security aware than pre 9/11. Things we thought we knew about hijacking turned out not to be true, so the policy of not actively resisting a hijacking attempts has thankfully been changed.

Quite right. Indeed, the most significant change is in the mindset of the passengers. Remember Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber? Three months after 9/11, he was lucky to make it off the plane alive.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    9/11 didn’t happen because of lapse in security. The hijackers took note of the system’s weaknesses and exploited them. We could have plugged the holes without standing up this new bureaucracy which hasn’t improved security one iota. The only thing it’s managed to do is to place another burden on the flying public, and if you complain then you are singled out as a troublemaker.

  2. McGehee says:

    To DCL’s comment I’ll only add, I still don’t quite get why we have a Dept. of Homeland Security, let alone the TSA.

  3. John Thacker says:

    At the time of creation, Republicans and Bush half-heartedly opposed creating the TSA and thus federalizing security. But it polled extremely well, and the Democrats started attacking Congressional Republicans for “threatening security” by holding up the bill based on it. So, they caved.

    It would be practically miraculous if they got rid of it now.

  4. Scott Dillard says:

    Can we start profiling now, please?

  5. Rick Levandowski says:

    TSA, what a joke.
    The screeners have a fetish about shoes, coats, belts, and sliderules. The reality that anything can (and will someday) be used as a weapon escapes them – – the glass bottle from the bar just beyond the “strip search” area can be broken and carried onboard no sweat. They just can’t think outside the box and as the previous poster remarked, you say anything and you’re a trouble-maker (not the alert, informed, and citizen-corp/taxpayer).

  6. Jason Persaud says:

    If congress gets rid of the TSA it would be a big mistake. bringing back the private company will cause another 9-11.TSA screener work very hard to protect the american public and getting rid of them would be a slap in the face.

  7. Jason Persaud says:

    Being a screener is not a easy job, you have to deal with alot of shit from the public. I think they are doing a hell of a job. If the private takes over i would never fly again!

  8. Linda says:

    What people don’t understand about TSA is that it really isn’t the screeners thats the problem–It is the supervisors and managers that don’t know the rules and Standard Operating Procedures from one gate to the next. It is the big idiots in Washington spending all kinds of money on stupid things and not watching for screeners that really care about what they are doing and just keep getting knocked down farther and farther so the managers and big shots at EACH airport look good. I’ll bet that if you went to 20 differnt airports unexpectedly and asked the supervisors and managers questions from the SOP without them knowing that you were coming, I’ll bet 65 -70% would not give you right answers. If you did the same with screeners, you would have a much better chance of getting the right answer. That is just POOR leadership. Don’t blame the screeners for everything—look a little higher to see who is leading them.