FOIA Documents Expose Details On TSA's $47,000 Coin Flipping App
from the but-with-at-least-as-much-possible-groin-grabbing-as-Tinder! dept
Time for yet another episode of “Your Tax Dollars Faffing About.” According to documents liberated by Kevin Burke, the TSA spent a ridiculous amount of money on an iPad app that randomly generates a left or right arrow.
They sent me two documents. The first is a disclaimer about how they had to black out some of the information. The second is the contract between the TSA and IBM. And there’s the payment:
Later today Pratheek Rebala reached out to mention that this data is available publicly, and there were 8 other payments as part of the same award, totaling $1.4 million; the document I have is one part, totaling $336,000. Furthermore, there were 4 bids for the contract and IBM won the bidding.
Because these are FOIA documents, some information has not been freed. (See: FOIA Exemption: SOP) This makes it difficult to narrow down the amount of the contract that went just to the random number/arrow generator.
Here’s a blurry photo of the app in use, overseen by a TSA agent wearing the regulation genital-fondling gloves.
The TSA — presumably appropriately shamed for spending $1.4 million on an app someone could build for several hundred thousand dollars less/without IBM’s awesome computing power during their spare time — began reaching out to those covering this story with a correction.
Taxpayers: the $1.4 million may have been blown on a left/right arrow app in total, but only ~$50,000 went directly to the development of the TSA’s random number generator.
The total development cost for the randomizer app was $47,400, a TSA spokesperson told Mashable, which was part of the $336,413.59 contract.
No further details were provided. This clarification suggests the TSA only comically overpaid for its “randomizer” rather than tragicomically overpaid for its digital coin flipper.
It’s not that the app doesn’t serve a purpose — although it does so in an overpriced, underwhelming fashion. The TSA had two concerns to address. First, it didn’t want to be viewed as “profiling” when “randomly” selecting people for extra scrutiny, as it had in the past.
You’re… brown. Come this way.
You’re… an infant. Please follow me.
Second, it had to actually randomize the outcome to deter would-be terrorists from gaming the system and bypassing the Director’s Cut of the TSA’s Security Theater.
So, it handled it as government agencies are supposed to. It made a list of requirements, opened up the floor for bidding, awarded the contract, and (most likely) watched deadlines and budget targets sail past like passengers granted instant Pre-Check approval just because the lines were getting a little long.
Now, it’s probably not quite as ridiculous as it first appears — all of this money devoted to a left/right arrow generator. The app would need to be both tamper-proof and idiot-proof and combining the TSA and IBM on a project is going to generate a lot of overhead costs. The total may also include the purchase of a few hundred iPads, which aren’t exactly easy on the wallet.
But in the end, it’s $50,000 for a random number generator with a lackluster front-end being run by a Wal-Mart greeter but for potential terrorists. And to date, it has yet to direct a would-be terrorist into the waiting arms of secondary screeners.