Congress: The TSA Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars

from the oversight-indeed dept

The House Oversight Committee has come out with a report slamming the TSA for tremendous amounts of waste, specifically in the “deployment and storage” of its scanning equipment. Basically, it sounds like the TSA likes to go on giant spending sprees, buying up security equipment and then never, ever using it. A few data points

  • As of February 15, 2012, the total value of TSA’s equipment in storage was, according to TSA officials, estimated at $184 million. However, when questioned by Committee staff, TSA’s warehouse staff and procurement officials were unable to provide the total value of equipment in storage.
  • Committee staff discovered that 85% of the approximately 5,700 major transportation security equipment currently warehoused at the TLC had been stored for longer than six months; 35% of the equipment had been stored for more than one year. One piece of equipment had been in storage more than six years – 60% of its useful life.
  • As of February 2012, Committee staff discovered that TSA had 472 Advanced Technology 2 (AT2) carry-on baggage screening machines at the TLC and that more than 99% have remained in storage for more than nine months; 34% of AT2s have been stored for longer than one year.
  • TSA knowingly purchased more Explosive Trace Detectors (ETDs) than were necessary in order to receive a bulk discount under an incorrect and baseless assumption that demand would increase. TSA management stated: “[w]e purchased more than we needed in order to get a discount.”

Oh yeah, and it appears that the TSA isn’t very good at tracking this stuff. When asked about the total cost of managing this equipment, the TSA was unable to provide an answer. And then it appeared to willfully mislead Congress about this:

  • TSA intentionally delayed Congressional oversight of the Transportation Logistics Center and provided inaccurate, incomplete, and potentially misleading information to Congress in order to conceal the agency’s continued mismanagement of warehouse operations.
  • TSA willfully delayed Congressional oversight of the agency’s Transportation Logistics Center twice in a failed attempt to hide the disposal of approximately 1,300 pieces of screening equipment from its warehouses in Dallas, Texas, prior to the arrival of Congressional staff.
  • TSA potentially violated 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1001, by knowingly providing an inaccurate warehouse inventory report to Congressional staff that accounted for the disposal of equipment that was still in storage at the TLC during a site visit by Congressional staff.
  • TSA provided Congressional staff with a list of disposed equipment that falsely identified disposal dates and directly contradicted the inventory of equipment in the Quarterly Warehouse Inventory Report provided to Committee staff on February 13, 2012.

One of the theories that was floated a few years ago when there was that big rush to rollout the nudie scanners, was that much of it was being driven by fear mongering from former government officials, like Michael Chertoff, who had economic relationships with the makers of the equipment. This report doesn’t confirm any of that, but it sure seems to fit that narrative pretty perfectly. Fear monger away, have the TSA buy a ton of questionable equipment it doesn’t actually need, and then have much of that equipment just sit in a warehouse. All on the taxpayers’ dime.

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Comments on “Congress: The TSA Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars”

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60 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Here is what I don’t get, why not just automate the whole process. Use sound waves instead of xrays, make the corridor a little longer (we want to be able to move people through with their baggage.) and use a computer to detect any anomalies. A computer is not going to miss things because it was distracted.

Probably taking about a 10(maybe 20)ftL x 4ftW x 8ftH corridor with no roof, painted taupe. I would say yellow but you have to choose the correct shade, else it be blinding or look like pee.

Computer is also going to be able to check more people per second than a standard operator. Not to mention you just walk through it with all your stuff in hand. Make sure each sensor array along the length serves a different purpose. Have the computer flag the person on the way out of the corridor. You can keep the line moving quickly in the event of a violation. The computer could also probably tell you what triggered the system. Since you can patch computer, you can modify the code to deal with new potential threats.

Since there is no real operator, no one is looking at you, you are not being groped. The sound spectrum is safe for people. You would need to use below 20HZ and above 24KHZ
else it would be to much chaos.

Start with pig analogs(live ones) full size and piglets. Debug.
Implement.
Happy travelers.

The above idea should raise almost no objections from the average. You will still get people who refuse but the safety of the operators and the public is minimal.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Once again, I can’t tell whether someone on the internet is being satirical or not.

Either you’re making a subtle point about security theatre, and how it can be done at basically no cost once all the visible (and audible) cues have been removed and the security is entirely faith-based, OR you’ve been watching a lot of bad science fiction (including all the “CSI” balderdash) and have a 1970’s grasp of what modern computers can and cannot do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I have a very real grasp of what a modern computer can do. The limit is the programmer. The limitation on the programmer is how well they understand the language and how well it is optimized to run on smallest resources required. How much a computer can handle per cycle is based solely on the program it is running.
What I suggested is extremely feasible and builds off sonar, sonograms, and human tests with the way lines are seen and what is and is not intimidating and likely to not elicit an unhelpful response.
A computer could easily handle all the data coming in and process it. Hence the need for live pigs. They are very similar to humans in their structure, they do not move at a standard pace, and you can easily hide “weapons” on them is all the likely places and in any creative way you can think.

The current system has no reward for the software to work correctly. You give a team a bonus for every device you can not pass through during testing. You also give a bonus for any device that runs for months on end with out restarting being needed.

Though I do like the double way that could be interpreted. That was by accident, and I wish I could claim it was purposed. That would have awesome.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You give a team a bonus for every device you can not pass through during testing that was not thought of (bone knives(real all bone ones), ceramic, plastic explosives, liquid that could be dangerous(this one would be really interesting to accomplish as you would need to determine the density of the liquid, and cross reference it against know densities)).

Computers have no gender,age, sexuality, or race bias. Every person is just some data pass through.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The limit is the programmer.

There are more limits than that. There are also real, physical limits of what a computer and the sensors attached to it are capable of.

I spent years as a programmer working with ultrasonic equipment used in medical research. Ultrasonic scanners are not useless for you suggested purpose, but are also no magic bullet. They’re also less useful that the millimeter radar scanners.

For one, it’d be pretty easy to defeat. Without physical contact, you won’t have anything like a medical ultrasound, and ultrasonic energy isn’t very hard to shield against in a way that doesn’t look terribly suspicious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Hence the need for a range of waves. You need the ability to penetrate different substances at different ranges. Making the range just sub or ultra sonic is going to fail miserably.

I will give you there is a limit on the sensors. The computer also, but not enough to limit this. You will need arrays of each to handle all the info. But since each sub-computer is purpose built to deal with its sensors, you no longer have that problem. Some custom hardware and software.

Hence why the limit is always the human.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I know this sounds snarky, but I assure you I mean it in earnest: you should develop this machine, market it, and make a fortune.

Personally, I don’t think your solution is quite as workable as you do, but I admit that I could be 100% wrong about this. Serious technological advances often happen with people not accepting convention wisdom about what is feasible and doing it anyway. I’m always happy when I see someone do this, and I’d love it if the next one I see is you. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Also, I in know way mean this will catch every thing every time. I am simply stating that a computer doing a person’s job will do a more consistent job throughout the day. It is also easier to “teach” 8k computers to learn something, then to teach 8k people the same anomaly to look for.

Can this be done with off the shelf hardware and software? Not a chance. You would have to program a custom kernel to deal with it. A lot of the hardware would have to modified to work at the ranges required.

Hard? TOTALLY.
Doable? Indeed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

My issues with the TSA have very little to do with safety.

1) The TSA hasn’t prevented anything… Other than me bringing my Mtn Dew to the gate (most airports are Coke only).
2) The flying public needs to be willing to accept some risk, I suspect they are. I think everyone knows that never again will a plane be taken with a couple box cutters.
3) What happened to probable cause, and the 4th amendment of the constitution (the unreasonable search and seizure)?

No keep in mind I don’t like my wife and daughters getting groped or having pictures taken of them like the next guy however, we have already lost the argument if that is our position. The correct argument has nothing to do with profiling, nothing to do with screening… It has everything to do with probable cause. By all means if someone is clutching a backpack with wires sticking out of it sweating like a pig then there is a reasonable assumption that something is going on. Of course there may not be, he could have just run across the terminal trying to catch a flight but a 5 minute chat with that guy is certainly better than a 30 minute delay for everyone in the airport.

At a basic level I don’t have a problem with cursory screening. Check for valid ID, hell even require a passport for all air travel, and then a quick x-ray of my bags. There shouldn’t be any removing of stuff on my person or from my bag without probable cause. This entire function can be passed back to the airlines themselves to fill with private security (lets be honest they are no worse than the TSA, and they have an incentive to be more cost effective) in addition to private security you have your Port Police force which can be available for situations where probable cause is found.

Steve says:

Re: Re: Re:

Because its really not about the technology, or the methods. Its about “creating” a bunch of “jobs” that aren’t actually needed. If you made the process better then you wouldn’t need as many people, and therefore would not have “created” as many “jobs”. The reason I am emphasizing created here is because taking tax dollars from individuals and creating a position is technically not a created job..

Anonymous Coward says:

a) it has taken long enough for Congress to get up to speed with this bullshit. now they have, what excuse are they going to use to ignore it?
b) about time Congress looked a bit deeper at who else is misleading them. cant think of any famous studios that may spring to mind or ex senators that assist them, can you?
c) why doesn’t Congress listen to what it’s being told by those other than just ‘self-preserving’ interests, then act on it, instead of waiting months if not years and making itself look total twats?

trollificus says:

Re: Re:

Well, why should they care??

Members of Congress, a widely-reviled body whose corruption is common knowledge and which has an approval rating in SINGLE DIGITS are well aware that their own re-election rate, as the individuals who make up this well-hated organization, is well over 90%. Great way to express outrage, America.

That they can then get their victims to go ballistic over a court decision that might allow someone to counteract their advantages as incumbents (with money) must be very reassuring to them. When they can take “Incumbent Protection” legislation and fool the voters by calling it “Campaign Reform”, why the hell should they care whether you’re outraged on any issue??

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Its just money

Printed 24/7. What are you worried about? We’ll just print more.

Its sad how much money has been pilfered since 9/11.
Pallets of money, to the tune of 12 billion, sent over to pay “contractors.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/feb/08/usa.iraq1

Luxury sedans (60k each) in a war zone. (Iraq for sale documentary http://iraqforsale.org/ )

Oh and BTW our Marines were sent into the DESERT with WOODLAND gear. (Former Marine who was among the first troops sent there. A co-worker turned good friend)

Oh and we cant forget the 2 billion spy center being built.

And on and on and on.

Marty Tarver says:

Re: Its just money

LOL, amen. It’s only money, we can always print more!, I heard the government owes the public 15.7T dollars (national debt) and 81.3T dollars in unfunded liabilities (SS, gov employee benefits, retirees, veterans and on and on… What’s a few hundred million to these people. That is $97 Trillion! After all it’s only paper, but so is toilet paper. I fear we are soon to follow the T.P. down the drain. Have a good one.

iambinarymind (profile) says:

Of course...

Of course they’re wasting stolen money (“taxes”) that is obtained by the threat of force/violence.

With a mafia (people calling themselves “government”) enforced monopoly, they don’t have to respond to market forces as they still receive the stolen money either way.

Just like any other government program, when they don’t do a good job they actually get more stolen money (“the TSA is inefficient because it’s not receiving enough funding” they’ll say) which is the exact opposite of how a free market operates (where if you fail to meet customer needs, you fail & go out of business) and thus setting up an incentive for government programs to be as inefficient as possible.

The core issue here is the people who call themselves “government” having a monopoly on force. Complex social issues cannot be solved by force/violence in the long run, it only makes it worse.

Solution: The non-aggression principle (the initiation of force is immoral / self-defense is valid) & respect for property rights / self-ownership [i.e. Voluntaryism]

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Boondoggle.

Is this, coupled with the amazing revelation that the scanners don’t work as advertised enough to fend off anyone screaming your soft on terrorism if you dare to question if the TSA is not working as intended?
That just blinding throwing money at an “issue” is going to never work out correctly.

This is a failed program dreamt up during a dark time. It was meant to be big, bold and make a statement. The program has failed at its mission, it is bloated, invasive, and adds no real security while shredding peoples rights and dignity. There is no fixing it, putting anymore money into it is even a bigger waste. Box it all up, sell it off, try again.
Stop expecting a magic machine that will make it all work.
Stop expecting people being able to look at people and know they are bad.
Stop expecting people to keep accepting you wasting money on snake oil.
Stop trying to point to all of the terrorist threats you “stopped”, even their own spokesmen pointed out stopping a can of soup on the top 10 list of things.

By this years anniversary of 9-11 can you skip the parades and grandstanding and just give us back our civil rights.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

By this years anniversary of 9-11 can you skip the parades and grandstanding and just give us back our civil rights.

YES! If that happened, I’d celebrate heartily. It would be our first (and only, so far) actual victory over terrorism. It would transform 9/11 from a remembrance of the start of our national destruction to a celebration of the start of our national recovery. It would be awesome and good in every way.

Blorg says:

What can you expect

The TSA was never anything but a damn ripoff. It was ALWAYS nothing but security theater. It was a bullshit flag that they politicians wanted to wave so they could say they had done something to make airlines safer after 9-11. And right from day one it was recognized as a fraud, waste, and embezzlement firehose. The Beltway vultures have been using this pointless parody of a security agency to line their pockets at public expense.

Travis (user link) says:

Waste Not, Want Not

Any wasteful spending is a bad thing. Big companies do it all the time, but it is their shareholder’s money. The TSA is spending our money. That said, the previous comments about the amount of the spending as a percentage of national debt, while true, seem to be resigned to more of the same. There needs to be a new culture in place in our government. Whoever is responsible for this TSA waste should be fired. As should all people in government that engage in this mismanagement. Got to send a message “Nothing changes if nothing changes”.

Anonymous Coward says:

I used to work at DFW airport. There was one TSA agent in particular that would hassle me endlessly; to the point of once threatening to have me escorted off the property for trying to get to work on time.

This is the same airport where a security checkpoint was left unattended for over an hour one evening.

All in all I would say a very effective means of thwarting terrorism.

Ben says:

I am not claiming to be a legal genius, nor am I American, but doesn’t the whole TSA search thing violate the presumption of innocence that is held dear to American law?

While border guards are allowed to search without warrant of persons and property entering the United States, they only have authority to do a cursory search of the outer clothing for weapons without reasonable cause and warrant. That is protected by American law and Constitution amendments 5, 6 and 14. It should also be noted that TSA, which has the role of a in-country maintenance of transportation and security, does not have the training as a border guard. The Customs and Border Protection agency Border Guards have a rigorous, 3 month training program with a 2 year probation. The TSA Screener has a 72 hour training program with 120 hours of probation/on job training. I honestly do not get why you let them treat you this way.

ahow628 (profile) says:

I could do this all day...

Congress: The TSA Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars

President: The Congress Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars

TSA: The Dept of Interior Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars

EPA: The FDA Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars

Dept of Agriculture: The Tresury Is Wasting Hundreds Of Millions In Taxpayer Dollars

And on and on and on…

Chickenlittle says:

TSA Equipment

Wasn’t it Nancy Pelosi’s husband whose company got the contract for the TSA scanners? As I recall, it wasn’t even the best bid for the job. So here we are again, politicians lining their own pockets for unnecessary equipment and always managing to aggravate the public as well.
Isn’t it amazing how much of our money they can spend without a budget!

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