The Everyday Absurdities of the TSA (Douglas French)
Thursday December 6th, 2012
‘Tis the season to be jolly. But then there’s the TSA. No government agency inspires “Bah Humbug” like the Transportation Safety Administration. For those who travel, the agency is 65,000 employees dressed in blue to make airline travel as annoying as possible.
Last week the House Aviation Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss common sense improvements for the agency in charge of transportation security but TSA boss John Pistole thinks he has it all figured out and refused to testify. The committee has no jurisdiction over his kingdom, so why show up? Pistole didn’t even send one of his minions to be grilled. This is the third time he’s snubbed the committee.
Christopher Elliott reported on the hearing for The Huntington Post,
One by one, panelists took turns excoriating the agency charged with protecting America’s transportation systems. It was plainly clear why Pistole was a no-show, and it had nothing to do with jurisdiction; it would have been an openly hostile crowd.The TSA screening area is a logic-free zone as my wife and I were reminded over the Thanksgiving holiday. Grandmothers never like to arrive empty-handed when they visit grandbabies. A wooden flintlock toy cap pistol for a little boy in New Jersey was tucked away in our carry-on luggage. The gun was not detected by the x-ray, but two bottles of hair product spurred the TSA agent to action.
Charles Edwards, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting inspector general, described the TSA as bureaucratic and dysfunctional. Stephen Lord of the Government Accountability Office, suggested the agency was ignoring the thousands of complaints from air travelers. And Kenneth Dunlap, who represented the International Air Transport Association, criticized the current TSA as expensive, inconsistent and reactive.
His pawing through the luggage quickly uncovered the wooden flintlock and he gingerly pulled the toy out of from under some clothes. He nervously said he didn’t know what to do and needed a supervisor’s opinion.
We waited for a supervisor while the clocked ticked closer to our departure time. A young woman finally appeared. She asked what the toy was. “What’s it look like?” asked the exasperated grandmother. “I don’t know what it is,” the supervisor shot back, “and I won’t touch it until you tell me.”
“It’s a piece of wood carved in the shape of gun.” The young supervisor picked up the toy carefully and said she needed to consult her bosses. In the distance, I watched her hand the toy over to a group of TSA higher ups hanging around the central command post located behind the inspection lines.
Eventually the offending item was passed up to what looked to be a metro cop, who looked it over and passed it back with no conversation. The gathering of supervisors then inspected the wooden pistol again. Finally, without thought, one of them threw it (our property) in the trash.
While this pow-wow was taking place, a discussion ensued about us solving this problem by returning to the airline counter and checking the bag. The TSA screener supported that idea until the supervisor returned, with another supervisor in tow. “The gun can’t be taken on an airplane.”
We again make the mistake of believing that logic and reason are of some use with the TSA and calmly pointed out that the toy was not a gun. The supervisor countered that it was a replica of a weapon and TSA rules don’t allow replicas to be carried on planes. “OK, return our replica and we’ll go back and check our bag.”
The supervisor thought quickly, knowing they had already thrown the toy away. “You can’t store a replica of a weapon in luggage unless it’s in a hard case that’s locked.”
At this point my fellow traveler, who makes her living arguing in court, threw up her hands. “You deal with these people,” she fumed. “I can’t do it anymore.”
The supervisors then tried to convince me that they were really giving us a break. They should be writing us up for this offense and that we could be fined. I told them I didn’t want to hear their nonsense, finally sticking my forefingers in my ears and chanting “lalalalala.”
“Can I please just have my bag,” I pleaded with an eye on the ticking clock. “No, this bag hasn’t been cleared,” the screener said. Back through the x-ray it went. Again another problem, this time it was plastic curlers.
Finally, after eyeballing the curlers the screener and supervisor together determined the beauty aids passed muster.
“Thanks, I feel so much safer,” the aggravated grandmother told the supervisor as we finally left for our flight. Being trained or medicated not to react, the supervisor calmly replied, “have a nice day.”
Sadly this story isn’t unusual and pales in comparison to stories of molestation and theft by TSA employees. It was just an average day with the TSA.
“As this mushrooming agency has spun out of control,” chairman, John Mica, concluded last week, “passengers have not been well served.” He went on to say that the agency should be closed down or at least closed down as we know it.
If the political class were forced to fly commercial one wonders whether the TSA would exist at all. As it is, while every flyer complains and congress is well aware of the problem, the TSA’s head man is not accountable to anyone. All the while, on the ground, unionized TSA employees make up rules as they go along to suit their own purposes.
“TSA has become the butt of countless jokes,” Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance told the subcommittee. “TSA is set up like the Maginot Line, the poster child for generals fighting the last war.”
It’s no joke when government employees callously throw passengers’ property away. This is how all of government works. While most people don’t deal with government day-to-day, we get to enjoy the TSA up close and personal. For those who believe government has a role to play, remember the TSA is as effective, efficient and careful as any other government agency.
They are indeed fighting the last war. Safety isn’t the issue. The war is on us.
Douglas E. French is senior editor of the Laissez Faire Club. He received his master's degree under the direction of Murray N. Rothbard at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, after many years in the business of banking. He is the author of two books, Early Speculative Bubbles and Increases in the Supply of Money, the first major empirical study of the relationship between early bubbles and the money supply, and Walk Away, a monograph assessing the philosophy and morality of strategic default. He is founder and editor of LibertyWatch magazine. Write him.