The TSA's True Focus Isn't 'Safety' – It's Self-Preservation

from the give-'em-a-inch-and-they'll-take-a-mile-(and-your-plastic-sword) dept

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.

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Comments on “The TSA's True Focus Isn't 'Safety' – It's Self-Preservation”

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Ninja (profile) says:

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.

Isn’t it on par with the US Government Culture of giving taxpayer money to enrich others? I mean, a good chunk of the bailout money from AIG went to pay the insurance Goldman Sachs made against the bad investments themselves spread around.

No really, it’s all about distributing the wealth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Self preservation

Well, either you can proove your worth or you will fight for self-preservation. They are two sides of the same coin. Either others can see the value of TSA in which case they are fighting to proove their worth and eventually expand their scope. If others do not see the value they are fighting for self preservation. There is no integrity in this. If your salary depends on the opinion of specific people you better design your system so these people get exposed only to the positive side of it.

Ultimately, the existence of government agencies are for the politicians to feel good and not for the common people!

Anonymous Coward says:


Remember the one true purpose of a government agency is to justify its own existence, by using a few people to create the appearance of doing something useful, but with the rest managing the budget, and writing reports to justify the agencies existence.
For those in charge, budget and number of staff are the measure of status, and weight of paperwork produced the measure of effectiveness.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Parasites

Private bureaucracies are usually self limiting, they survive while the business they are running puts money in the bank, they die out when there is no more money in the bank.
Government bureaucracies just get the government to increase taxes when they need more money. It is usually very difficult to get rid of them short of a successful revolution, or conquest by a foreign army.

Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile) says:

The Difference

The TSA definitely is different from airport to airport. At Reagan in DC the screeners look like they could care less about their job (security) and serving the customer is the least of their concerns. They are just looking to collect a paycheck. At Des Moines they are emboldened by their promotion from mall cop and take their job way too seriously. It must be painfully obvious how the TSA is a grand farce to any who encounter and observe. Why are Americans so dumb to allow our government to be so wasteful?

IrishDaze (profile) says:

If DHS wanted the TSA to be effective, they’d make it a point to hire highly-paid competent security professionals to revamp the entire TSA approach. If Israel can accomplish what they have in the area of travel security (which, btw, includes courtesy, respect, and almost no time lost to the traveler), then we can, too. It’s just a matter of if we can motivate the politicians to make it so.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

The TSA is just an extension of government intrusion into our lives. There’s an agenda at work behind the curtain and it is this: to disarm and control.

“Never Forget, even for an instant, that the one and only reason anybody has for taking your gun away is to make you weaker than he is, so he can do something to you that you wouldn’t allow him to do if you were equipped to prevent it. This goes for burglars, muggers, and rapists, and even more so for policemen, bureaucrats, and politicians.” ~ Alexander Hope

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Hold on a second here. Because one mental case went and shot up a school, let’s blame it on millions of law-abiding citizens who happens to own guns. If that’s the way it is then let’s take them away from everyone, including government and law enforcement. After all, if the people shouldn’t have the right to self-defense, neither should they.

Old Fool (profile) says:

So many the same

Put anyone in charge of a department which produces nothing and you can guarantee they will not come back a little later saying: “You know, you don’t really need us, we are inefficient and unnecessary – may as well sack us all”. They will almost certainly say “Hey, we are really important, our job is vital and we need more powers and funds”.

Humans… Cunning little buggers.

The Real Michael says:

It's not about self-preservation, it's about controlling the public

The TSA’s purpose is to control mass transportation and confiscate guns/weapons.

Some articles that may be of interest:

Just a reminder that the TSA wants us to wear taser/tracking bracelets.

How will cops respond to gun confiscation orders?

Chinese news is demanding that we disarm. Ironic how their media and our own overlaps with the same message. Disturbing.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: It's not about self-preservation, it's about controlling the public

Chinese news is demanding that we disarm. Ironic how their media and our own overlaps with the same message. Disturbing.

It will make it a hell of a lot easier to take over the US if they don’t have to deal with the guns in the hands of private citizens. Take out the military bases and then they can roll right through without any effort. Hasn’t anyone seen Red Dawn (either one?)

Someguy says:

Alternatives to the TSA

The TSA has been a disaster since day 1. My suggestion is to nearly disband the TSA and turn all security over to the airlines. A minimal set of standards could be set by an administrative TSA, but beyond that, the airlines could manage security however they wanted. In effect, the airlines could use security as a differentiator from the competition: one may choose to be “the safest” another “the friendliest” etc. Surely, this is the American way.

slick8086 says:

“it could easily set up a kiosk where travelers could file a complaint electronically with reports that could be viewed and acted on daily.”

That is an excellent idea. If I had the means I would set them up myself just past the screening area and in the terminal waiting areas so that people could use them while they waited for to board their flights.

Why don’t the airports set them up themselves?

John Nemesh (profile) says:

Avoiding the TSA as much as humanly possible...

Well, I just flew to Denver for business last month…and they have the backscatter scanners in place there. I told the TSA goons that I preferred a grope to a radiation dose. The stooge replied back…These are “new” and “don’t have radiation”. Really? Am I misunderstanding physics then? Because you HAVE to have radiation of some sort to generate an image through clothing!

Regardless of this bit of security theater, I choose to avoid airports whenever possible. I am DRIVING 1600 miles (each way) this holiday to avoid flying. Yes, I would rather spend 4 days on the highway than ANY time in an airport!

The TSA needs to be dissolved, ASAP.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Avoiding the TSA as much as humanly possible...

100% with you on that. Unfortunately, the TSA have been actively expanding into other forms of transportation. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before we see checkpoints on highways all across the country until eventually we’re all prisoners within our own country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Avoiding the TSA as much as humanly possible...

I got the same speech on a recent flight when I opted out of the scanner. I was told that this machine was not one of those which uses radiation or takes nude photos.

I told him (in nicer words, of course) to shove it and get groping. Unfortunately, the setup of the checkpoint was not like some others and the inspection was not in full view of the queue; I prefer during these screenings that everyone who is waiting can plainly see the extent to which I am not trusted to be an airline passenger.

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

The Difference

The simple fact is that it’s all about professionalism, and common sense. While I’m not defending the TSA at all, you have to consider how many people who go through security quickly and without issue.

Most screeners have the common sense and courtesy to make the process painless. I still think most of the regulations are stupid, but having people who are “Human” and polite goes a long way.

This is one of the reasons I love flying out of Huntsville, AL, even if it is one of the most expensive airports in the US. Policies are just words on paper, it’s people’s actions that matter in the end.

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