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.