The TSA's True Focus Isn't 'Safety' - It's Self-Preservation (Techdirt)
Wednesday December 19th, 2012
Despite its own worst efforts, the TSA doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Year after year, horror story after horror story surfaces, detailing abuse of American citizens at the hands (very often literally) of TSA agents. If they're not poking, prodding, fondling or carelessly tossing supposed explosives into a trash can five feet away, they're confiscating harmless plastic swords while allowing loaded handguns on board. If they're not digging around in someone's laptop searching for who knows what, they're "diverting" iPads into their personal collections.
A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) suggests that the TSA's main focus isn't safety, it's self-preservation. As yearly budget reviews loom, the TSA suddenly needs to "look busy" and justify its continued existence. Anything that might cut back its funding is briefly humored and then discarded. (via Reason 24/7)
Congress in 2002 set up a program giving airports the option of having private employees conduct screening operations. Unfortunately, TSA was put in charge of deciding which locations could participate. A total of 16 out of 440 commercial airports nationwide got into the program before TSA Administrator John S. Pistole slammed the door shut last year. Keeping private companies out of government operations ensures a steady flow of tax dollars. While taxpayers might appreciate the relief, the TSA isn't interested in dividing the pie into more slices that it absolutely has to. While it maintains its (again, very often literal) stranglehold on airport security, the airports it "services" are losing business directly as a result of its frequent bad behavior. As the GAO states, "Passengers who have negative encounters with the screening process generally associate their experiences with the specific airport."
Private companies would be forced to follow the hated TSA procedures, but even with these limitations, the Department of Homeland Security isn't interested in taking on new "partners."
[T]op Democrats want the TSA to continue rejecting applications to the program "until the costs and possible benefits can be accurately assessed," as Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, urged. Kind of tough to assess costs and benefits if you're unwilling to actually let the program run. This lockout extends further than private companies looking to get into the airport security business. The deck is stacked against private screeners, whose performance is assessed by the one entity that is relying on their failure to stay in the money.
Right now, the performance of private screeners is assessed under a process directed by TSA. It's not particularly surprising that this government agency is going to do everything it can to limit potential competition. Congressional auditors found, "TSA has not conducted regular reviews comparing private and federal screener performance and does not have plans to do so." The agency isn't about to document its own relative failure. In fact, the TSA does all it can to keep from being criticized. Here's how the traveler complaint process "works:"
At Ronald Reagan Airport, for example, angry flyers aren't given a form they can turn in on the spot to document their concerns. Instead, they're handed a tiny, easily lost sliver of paper containing TSA's website and mailing address. Ah, technology... wait... what? A slip of paper that contains the TSA's website URL? If the TSA actually was interested in feedback, it could easily set up a kiosk where travelers could file a complaint electronically with reports that could be viewed and acted on daily. Instead, it justs hands out something of use to nobody and hopes that time and distance either takes the traveler out of the complaining mood or makes the details unreliably fuzzy. The TSA benefits from its neo-Luddite approach which keeps complaints to an absolute minimum, a quasi-fact it frequently references when defending itself against any complaints that somehow make it through.
All of these actions have allowed the TSA to rake in nearly $8 billion a year without having done a single thing to improve its policies, protect travelers or prevent terrorism.