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Posts Tagged ‘Transportation Security Administration’

My previous columns about the Transportation Security Administration have focused on bureaucratic inefficiency and incompetence (as well as laughable examples of “security theater”).

Today, let’s take advantage of the shutdown and focus instead on why TSA should be disbanded so that airports can use more efficient private security firms.

An article in Reason gives some important details on why privatized airport screening is the best way of making lemonade out of shutdown lemons.

…the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported that 10 percent of its agents were absent from their posts, up from three percent in the same time period last year. …The result has been longer wait times, closed security checkpoints… While it’s difficult to feel any sympathy at all for the professional privacy violators at the TSA… It’s also an unfortunate consequence of federalizing so much of crucial airport operations, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation expert… There are already a number of airports in the country that have contracted out their passenger screenings to private companies through the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program (SPP), helping to immunize them from the effects of the shutdown. This includes San Francisco International Airport (the busiest airport to participate in the SPP program), where some 1,200 privately employed security screeners have continued to be paid despite all the budget drama in Washington. …Contracting out these services would ensure that they don’t come to a screeching halt every time the government shuts down. Putting that distance between the government and security and safety services would also improve oversight.

For all intents and purposes, the folks at Reason want to make a virtue out of necessity. The government shutdown is making air travel an even bigger hassle, so why “let a crisis go to waste” when this is a great opportunity to push for sweeping reform?

As a frequent flyer, I say Amen.

Here’s a good example. Because of my support for the Georgia Bulldogs, I have to endure the Atlanta airport several times each year. It is one of the worst airports I’ve ever experienced.

It’s so bad that the city’s politicians are exploring private security.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed…said he wants to take a closer look at privatizing security screening at the Atlanta airport to address the issue of long lines. …Southwell…earlier this year sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration, raising the idea of privatizing security screening at the Atlanta airport if long lines were not addressed. …Reed said Monday that the city has been in conversations with San Francisco International Airport, which privatized its security screening. “We’re going to explore that and see if it’s the best decision,” Reed said. “The lines are very concerning to me…. We’re going to do every single thing we can do, and it’s going to have urgency to it.”

It’s quite possible that Atlanta’s politicians are merely bluffing and that their real goal is to simply get more TSA bureaucrats, but I hope this is a serious initiative and that Atlanta escapes the TSA.

Experts who study this issue says private contractors are both more efficient and safer.

For those who want to understand the background on this issue, here are a couple of very good articles.

The first piece, from Skift, explain how we got to the current situation.

Airports could actually do something about the hated agency, and a few are weighing a radical option: firing TSA screeners and hiring private replacements. The frustration over queue times—which have topped two and three hours at airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte and Denver—has prompted new attention by airport executives to the TSA’s little-known  Screening Partnership Program, in which the federal agency solicits bids for a contractor to handle airport screening. The contractors must follow the same security protocols as federal officers, with similar wages and benefits. At Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, …administrators are “discussing a variety of options,” including replacing the TSA with a private contractor, said Deborah Ostreicher, assistant aviation director at the airport. Sky Harbor officials have considered their TSA service “less than satisfactory for many months,” she said. The Phoenix airport is a hub for American Airlines Group Inc., which has blamed the TSA delays across the country for causing more than 70,000 passengers to miss flights so far this year ….The former general manager of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport  wrote a letter to the TSA in February warning that the world’s busiest airport was “conducting exhaustive research” into privatized security screening.

There are 22 airports that already have opted out.

The power to replace TSA employees with private screeners dates to the birth of the agency in 2002, shortly after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Congress designated five airports at the time to offer screening by private firms as a way to compare the federal approach. Another 17 smaller airports have since joined the original five. The most recent to make the switch to private security screeners, Punta Gorda Airport in Florida, expects to finish the transition next week. San Francisco International is the largest U.S. airport with private screeners. Now other large airports are researching private-sector alternatives.

One of the benefits of privatization is that contractors have more flexibility to do a better job.

…airports that have switched to private firms say they consider the contractors more responsive and better able to adjust staffing to address traffic surges and lulls. …said Brian Sprenger, director at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Montana, which began private screening in 2014. “We now have a little bit more say in ensuring that the customer service side is a little more elevated in the process.”

Though TSA is reluctant to allow more airports to escape.

Christopher Bidwell, vice president of security for Airports Council International-North America, faulted the TSA in the past for making it difficult for airports to switch to private screeners, regularly denying airports’ applications for the program. …Any airport wishing to switch must be pass a security and cost analysis by the TSA to demonstrate that hiring private contractors will not harm the agency’s budget or compromise security.

A column in City Journal adds some more historical background, noting that the failures on 9/11 were the result of government guidelines.

Even by Washington standards, the creation of the TSA was a blunder of colossal proportions. Experts from around the world warned at the time—in 2001—that federalizing airport security would be ruinously expensive, inefficient, and unsafe. Israel and many European countries had already rejected similar systems. …Democrats who controlled the Senate were especially eager to gain campaign contributions from tens of thousands of new federal employees. …Legislators and bureaucrats scapegoated the private security companies that had been screening passengers for the airlines. Citing the lapse in security on September 11… It was the federal government, not the private screeners, that set the policy allowing small knives and box cutters to be brought onto planes. Federal guidelines prevented airlines from arming pilots and reinforcing cockpit doors. The feds also stopped the private security firms from using an existing system to identify high-risk passengers, which would have singled out some of the hijackers for special screening.

Here’s some great data on the superiority of private airport screeners.

…the TSA blames its failures on lack of funding. But it’s already spending way too much, as demonstrated in a congressional study comparing TSA screeners in Los Angeles with non-TSA screeners in San Francisco, one of the few airports allowed to run its own system, contracting with a private company. If LAX switched to the San Francisco model, the study concluded, it could cut its screening costs by more than 40 percent. The San Francisco private company’s screeners received the same salary and benefits as TSA screeners, but they were so much better trained and deployed that each one processed 65 percent more passengers than a TSA screener in Los Angeles. They apparently enjoyed better working conditions, too, because they were much less likely to quit their jobs. And in tests by federal investigators, they were three times better at detecting contraband.

Unfortunately, TSA has institutional hostility to private screeners.

Those results, as well as other research showing that private screeners get better ratings from passengers and airport managers, inspired congressional Republicans to pass legislation giving more airports the option of switching to private contractors. But, as anyone could have predicted in 2001, it’s not easy to get rid of a federal monopoly, especially now that unionized screeners can intimidate local politicians—as they did in blocking an attempt to replace them at Sacramento’s airport. Even if local officials stand up to the union, they still need to get permission from the TSA.

And, as noted in the Wall Street Journal, many politicians don’t care about the private sector’s superior performance because they’re more intreested in expanding bureaucracy.

TSA runs a Screening Partnership Program, which in theory allows an airport to “opt out” of TSA and bring in a certified private security firm. In a 2011 report, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure compared Los Angeles data with a private operation running San Francisco’s airport. A contract screener in San Fran moved through 65% more passengers than TSA employees in L.A. But only a handful of airports participate, as TSA chooses the security company and micromanages the contract. That isn’t a partnership. Congress could stipulate that an airport manage its own bidding and operations; the government would remain a safety regulator. …Congress nationalized airport screening after 9/ll, as Democrats saw a political opening to add thousands of new union workers. But after nearly a decade and a half, TSA’s legend of incompetence grows.

Sadly, growing incompetence is not matched by growing pressure for privatization.

But hopefully that will change.

Let’s close with a rather humorous Venn diagram.

P.S. For more TSA humor, see this, this, this, thisthis, and this.

P.P.S. In addition to letting airports escape the TSA, we should copy Canada and achieve better results at lower cost by privatizing air traffic control

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The Transportation Security Administration has become infamous over the years for things that it doesn’t allow on planes.

Consider these examples of the Keystone Cops in action.

But now the TSA is moving with such tortoise-like inefficiency that even the passengers without plastic hammers and kitty cat keychains aren’t getting on planes.

Our cousins across the Atlantic are amused by the TSA’s incompetence. Here are some blurbs from a story in the UK-based Telegraph.

Circus performers have been brought in to cheer up delayed passengers at San Diego International Airport, where travellers are missing flights because the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is failing to get people through security quick enough. …San Diego isn’t the only airport gripped by TSA chaos – queues are winding around terminals across the country as the busy summer season begins. Neither is it the only airport to hire entertainment – Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has been trying to stabilise the situation with miniature horses. Yes, horses. …The so-called “therapy unicorns” have been supplied by the Seven Oaks Miniature Therapy Horses programme in nearby Ohio. …Other airports have laid on live music and free lollipops to lighten the mood. It will take more than a lollipop to assuage American Airlines, though, which claims 6,800 of its passengers missed their flights in one week due to the delays.

Surely there must be a better response than clowns and unicorns, right?

As you might expect, the answer is less government.

…critics claim the tax-payer funded agency is inefficient and should be replaced by a private company.

Could that really be the solution?

According to a report from the BBC, some major airports are thinking of escaping from the nightmare of TSA incompetence.

The Port Authority of New Jersey and New York and the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport have both threatened to privatise their passenger screening processes.

And we already have private screeners at more than 20 airports, including major cities such as Kansas City, Orlando, Rochester, and San Francisco.

But there should be a lot more if this 2011 story from MSNBC is any indication.

“The TSA has grown too big and we’re unhappy with the way it’s doing things,” said Larry Dale, president of Orlando Sanford International Airport. “My board is sold on the fact that the free enterprise system works well and that we should go with a private company we can hold directly accountable for security and customer satisfaction.” Dale isn’t alone. Airports in Los Angeles, the Washington, D.C. metro area and Charlotte, N.C., are also considering tossing the TSA. …Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), …chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has encouraged the nation’s 200 biggest airports to opt out, calling TSA a “bloated, poorly focused and top-heavy bureaucracy.”…When TSA was created in 2001, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act mandated that the Screening Partner Program (SPP) be adopted to allow screening by private companies under federal oversight.Five airports immediately signed up in 2002 — San Francisco International, Kansas City International, Greater Rochester International, Jackson Hole and Tupelo Regional — and eleven others…have joined since then. …So far, no airport that joined SPP has opted back into the federal screening program.

Airports go with a private company because it means workforce adaptability and flexibility.

Unlike government workers, problem employees working for contract screening companies “can be removed immediately,” noted Mark VanLoh, director of aviation at Kansas City Aviation Department. The private screening company is easier to reach, he added. “Because I am a client, I usually get a return call immediately. We are all in the customer service business, so that’s a nice thing to have.” The bottom line, said McCarron of San Francisco International, is that “we feel our passengers are as safe as at any other airport. And by allowing [the private screening company] to handle the personnel management of the screening process, the TSA staff at SFO can focus its attention on security issues.”

But much more needs to happen to make air travel pleasant and safe.

“The screening partnership program may be a step in the right direction, but ultimately, it doesn’t change the fact that people at the top are idiots. The real problem is that TSA needs to be totally rebuilt,” said aviation consultant Michael Boyd, of Colorado-based Boyd Group International. “Contracting with private screening companies offers staffing flexibility and a few other advantages,” said Robert Poole, director of transportation policy for the Reason Foundation, a free market think tank, “but the system is still very centralized and run too much by TSA.”

In other words, opting into the SPP program is a step in the right direction, but not the ideal solution.

Though even this step is difficult. Experts are concerned that TSA is dragging its feet to prevent more airports from opting for private security. Here’s some of what was written earlier this year.

There’s plenty of evidence that TSA airport screeners are not effective, but worse still, the agency is rigging the system to make sure it is the only option for airport security. …the Screening Partnership Program (SPP) could enhance aviation security while also supporting increased commercial activity, which are both good for the country. …SPP is a program for privatized passenger screening, where airports can “opt out” of TSA screening by contracting with a company to provide passenger and baggage screening commensurate with TSA standards and under the oversight of the federal government.

But TSA permission is needed if airports want private screeners, and that’s a problem.

TSA’s calculus on whether to grant an SPP application is based in part on costs, and the agency does this by comparing proposed costs from contractors against TSA’s estimated costs for the same service. …Private companies are incentivized to determine real costs, as those costs become an operating budget. Propose too little and the company will not make money; propose too much and the company is uncompetitive. Meanwhile, TSA is incentivized to determine costs that outcompete a private company (to protect budget and staff)… by 2011, TSA was rejecting all requests from airports to engage SPP. …TSA is doing an end-run around the free market, leveraging their unique role as competitor and application reviewer to ensure the private sector cannot participate, and the agency then shields itself from oversight.

So the TSA bureaucracy is putting its thumb on the scale to protect its turf.

Is there a silver lining to this dark cloud? Are the TSA bureaucrats at least doing a better job with security, thus perhaps balancing out the inefficiency and high costs?

Nope.

In June 2015, it was revealed that TSA screeners failed 95% of the time during Red Team tests that secreted illicit items through security. …TSA cannot even meet the security standards that private companies must meet under SPP. Arguably, if TSA were a private company bidding for an SPP contract, they would be rejected in terms of costs and effectiveness.

So here’s the bottom line.

SPP yields cheaper and more flexible security operations and, as arguably the biggest benefit to the disgruntled traveling public, if the private sector screeners insult someone, infringe on their rights, or treat them less than fairly (as an endless amount of TSA horror stories reveal), they can be fired, immediately. It is extremely difficult to fire a government employee… TSA is failing in its airport screening mission while also prohibiting competition that could deliver better security and lower costs. It’s time to let private sector screeners take a shot at it.

Yup. In a sensible world, airports all over the nation would be opting out of the TSA and into the SPP.

Let’s close with some depressing analysis from Megan McArdle on what will probably happen instead. Here are some excerpts from her Bloomberg column.

The TSA is blaming inadequate staffing, but government bureaucrats always blame inadequate staffing, since agency headcount is generally a good proxy for “importance of the boss of said agency.” …The TSA has slowed down screening after last summer’s humiliating failure to detect almost any of the contraband in a security audit. …this is the essential logic of bureaucracy. The TSA will suffer terribly if a terrorist slips through with a bomb — or even if the auditors make it through with a fake bomb. On the other hand, what happens to them if there are long lines? Not much. They’ve got to be there for eight hours, so why should they care if we are too? This is why government agencies tend to be much more attuned to remote risks than the real and persistent costs they impose on the rest of us.

Especially when providing poor service will probably produce a bigger budget for the TSA!

…there’s not really any point in having the TSA. Which is a conversation worth having. …But in the history of the world, few indeed are the managers or bureaucrats who have said: “Yup, what we’re doing is useless, you should probably fire me and all my staff.” It’s pretty much inevitable that the TSA, having flunked its audit, is going to choose to impose huge burdens on airline passengers, rather than admit that it’s not actually doing all that much to keep us safe. I’d bet that in the next six months, the TSA will be rewarded for the longer lines by having its budget and headcount increased. …The end result of this cycle: a bigger, more expensive agency that still doesn’t do much to keep us safe.

Isn’t that typical. A bureaucracy getting rewarded for failure.

In a just world, we would take this advice from the Chicago Tribune and shut down the TSA.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

P.S. Check out this amazing picto-graph if you want more information about the failures of the TSA.

P.P.S. For more TSA humor, see this, this, this, this, this, and this.

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The Transportation Security Administration has become infamous over the years for things that it doesn’t allow on planes.

Consider these examples of the Keystone Cops in action.

Confiscating a plastic hammer from a mentally retarded man.

Detaining a woman for carrying breast milk.

Hassling a woman for the unexplained red flag of having sequentially numbered checks.

Demanding that a handicapped 4-year old boy walk through a metal detector without his leg braces.

Putting an 8-year old cub scout on the no-fly list.

o Stopping a teenager from flying because her purse had an image of a gun.

o Seizing raygun belt buckles and Kitty Cat keychains.

Though, to be fair, other governments are similarly brainless.

I was quite amused by this bit of news from Ireland.

When passing through security at the airport, a Minion fart gun…was seized from a young toddler and taken away. The security officers claimed it was a ‘threat’ and took the toy gun away from the child.

Just in case you think a “fart gun” is too realistic and that a potential terrorist might grab it from the child and use it to take over the plane, here’s a picture to put your mind at ease.

And let’s not forget that airport bureaucrats all over the planet are on guard against criminal toiletries. I’ve had obviously dangerous toothpaste and deodorant confiscated not only in the United States, but also at airports in seemingly sensible places such as Australia and Cayman.

But let’s be fair. The TSA gets a lot of attention for things it doesn’t allow on planes, so perhaps it is time to give the bureaucrats some attention for the things it does allow.

Unfortunately, as reported by Politico, the TSA apparently is better at blocking fake weapons rather than real weapons.

…news that the Transportation Security Administration failed to detect 67 of 70 mock weapons in a secret test shook the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees it, and led to renewed calls for the TSA to clean up its act. …Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican who used to chair the transportation committee, said the 95 percent failure rate is evidence of a sweeping conceptual failure. …“They’re spending billions of dollars on a huge screening bureaucracy,” he added. …the TSA also cannot publicly point to many significant attacks thwarted at airport gates, leading experts to insist that its protocols should be considered largely ineffective. Rafi Sela, president of international transportation security consultancy AR Challenges, said the agency’s nearly $8 billion budget is largely being misspent on a misguided model.

Great, we’re flushing $8 billion down the toilet on a system that does a bad job based on a bad methodology.

Heck, the bureaucrats can’t even stop the wrong people from getting through security.

A man with a stolen boarding pass got through airport security in Salt Lake City and checked in at a gate for a flight to California… Salata, who is on the sex offender registry in Utah, grabbed a boarding pass that a woman accidently left at a check-in kiosk and used it to get through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, said Craig Vargo, chief of airport police.

He was only stopped because the woman obtained another boarding pass.

Salata was detained when the woman who had left the pass checked in using a replacement ticket that had been uploaded to her phone.

The TSA tried to rationalize this goof by stating that at least he wasn’t able to smuggle any guns or bombs past security.

TSA spokeswoman Lori Dankers said an agent made a mistake in identifying Salata, but the man was properly screened to determine if he was carrying anything dangerous.

Gee, how reassuring.

Now that we’ve mocked the TSA for stopping harmless items and allowing potentially dangerous items (or people), let’s contemplate some actual solutions.

In previous columns, I’ve argued that it’s time to put the private sector in charge, citing the good work of Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz. And as Steve Chapman has explained, there were lots of benefits to the pre-TSA system.

Let’s now add to that list.

We’ll start with some passages from Jeff Jacoby’s column in the Boston Globe.

He starts by beating up on the TSA.

Fourteen years after the creation of the TSA, there is still no indication that the agency has ever caught a terrorist, or foiled a 9/11-type plot in the offing. Conversely, there are reams of reports documenting the inability of TSA screeners to spot hidden guns, knives, bomb components, and other dangerous contraband as they pass through airport checkpoints. It’s doubtful that anyone is still capable of being surprised by a fresh confirmation of the TSA’s incompetence… The Transportation Security Administration, which annually costs taxpayers more than $7 billion, should never have been created. The responsibility for airport security should never have been federalized, let alone entrusted to a bloated, inflexible workforce.

He then points out that there’s a better approach.

The airlines themselves should bear the chief responsibility for protecting planes and passengers at airports. After all, they have powerful financial incentives to ensure that flights are free of danger, while at the same time minimizing the indignities to which customers are subjected. Their bottom line would be at stake. The TSA feels no such spur. Effective defense against airline terrorism doesn’t require patting down grandmothers or confiscating eyedrops. It requires sophisticated counterterror intelligence (which is what stopped the 2006 liquid bomb plot), and it calls for passengers to be vigilant (which is what ultimately foiled the underwear and shoe bombers). The TSA supplies neither.

A column by Adam Summers in the Orange County Register reaches the same conclusion.

He starts with the indictment of the current system.

TSA’s performance has steadily declined. A 2002 USA Today report revealed that undercover agents got bombs and weapons through security about a quarter of the time. By 2007, the failure rate had increased to 75 percent. Since then, the TSA has increased the number of screeners from 30,000 to 46,000 and spent $550 million on new screening equipment and agent training, yet somehow it continues to get worse. …The TSA has also perpetuated – and even expanded – failed and unproven programs, such as the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, which seeks to weed out evildoers by looking for certain behavioral cues among passengers. The GAO…recommended shuttering the program. Nonetheless, the agency has spent roughly $1 billion on SPOT since 2007 and is defiantly moving forward to “enhance” the program.

And then points to a sensible solution.

The TSA has proven to be abusive, unaccountable and totally ineffective. To restore some sense of competency and accountability, the agency should simply be abolished, and security should be made the responsibility of private airlines and airports, which have a strong incentive to prevent their customers from being killed. Competition among private providers would also lead to adoption of the most efficient and effective security measures while still respecting travelers’ rights.

Wow, what a shocking conclusion. The private sector is more competent than the government. Knock me over with a  feather!

Let’s close with some humor (though the joke is on us). The column by Adam Summers mentioned TSA’s SPOT program, which even the Government Accountability Office has recognized as a wasteful failure.

Well, the folks at Reason have a very amusing video on the characteristics that might lead SPOT bureaucrats to identify you as a potential terrorist.

P.S. Check out this amazing picto-graph if you want more information about the failures of the TSA.

P.P.S. For more TSA humor, see this, this, this, this, this, and this.

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This may be a sign of the apocalypse, but I’m going to praise a government agency.

In the past, I’ve scorched the Transportation Security Administration for pointless and foolish “security theater.”

  1. I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence.
  2. I’ve shared some horror stories about TSA abuse.
  3. And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see this, this, this, and this).

But I’m willing to admit when the government makes a wise decision (even if all they’re doing is reversing a previous dumb decision), and the TSA’s policy on pocket knives deserves some applause.

Here are some details from a CNN report.

The nation’s aviation security chief on Thursday defended his recent decision to again permit knives aboard commercial flights, despite concerns from major airlines and their flight crews, and sharp criticism from some members of Congress. …He said small knives no longer pose a threat to aircraft security, which now emphasizes bomb detection. “A small pocket knife is simply not going to result in the catastrophic failure of an aircraft and an improvised explosive device will,” he said. “And we know, from internal covert testing, searching for these items, which will not blow up an aircraft, can distract our officers from focusing on the components of an improvised explosive device.” Small knives were banned along with a host of other undersized sharp objects like nail clippers, screwdrivers and cosmetic scissors, following the 9/11 al Qaeda hijack attacks on the United States.

I’ll be particularly happy if the new policy allows softball bats, since I sometimes have to fly to out-of-town tournaments with my over-50 team.

The rules also allow passengers to carry up to two golf clubs, certain toy bats or other sports sticks — such as ski poles, hockey sticks, lacrosse sticks and pool cues — aboard in carry-on luggage.

For skeptics out there, here’s the simple reality. In the post-9/11 worlds, passengers will not allow dirtbags to take over a plane with small knives, golf clubs, or any of the items being allowed on planes.

Chill, folks, this is not a threat

The TSA is correct to focus on things that represent bigger real-world threats.

P.S. I should also applaud the TSA’s “pre-check” program. I’m actually at Dulles Airport right now, having breezed through the new screening process that allowed me to keep on my shoes and jacket and to keep my laptop in its bag.

P.P.S. To show that I’m not getting too soft in my old age, I still think the TSA is inefficient and incompetent, and I invite everyone to peruse this remarkable info-graphic.

P.P.P.S. And because I don’t think the government should discriminate (even when it’s discriminating in my favor), I still object to special checkpoint lines for frequent flyers and first class passengers.

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I’ve written about the TSA being a wasteful, stupid, and ineffective bureaucracy, and I’ve also shared some good anti-TSA humor (see the links in this post, which also contains an amazing visual).

Today, let’s focus on the wasteful and ineffective part. It seems that Keystone Cops of airport security have a new “pilot program” that is unpleasantly reminiscent of the old internal passport regime maintained by South Africa in the apartheid era.

Here is some of what one passenger wrote about his experience.

I came face-to-face with Big Brother the other day, and it was a frightening experience. He actually presented himself in the deceptive form of a young, attractive female officer, working for the Transportation Security Administration at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. At first she simply seemed chatty and friendly. She looked at my airline boarding pass and noted that I was coming from Denver. Then she mentioned that I was headed from Detroit to Grand Rapids. “That’s a pretty short flight,” she said. “Talk to my travel agent,” I grumbled. At that point she asked me what my business would be in Grand Rapids. “I’m headed home,” I replied. Then she wanted to know where home was. That’s when the mental alarms went off and I realized I was being interrogated by Big Brother in drag. I asked her why the federal government needed to know where I was going and what I would be doing. She explained that the questions were part of a new security “pilot program.” I then told her I am an American citizen, traveling within my own country, and I wasn’t breaking any laws. That’s all the federal government needed to know, and I wasn’t going to share any more. Not because I had anything to hide. It was because we live in a free country where innocent people are supposedly protected from unwarranted government intrusion and harassment.

Good for Mr. Gunn. Here’s more of his story.

At that point the agent yelled out, “We have another refusal.” One of my bags was seized and I was momentarily detained and given a hand-swab, which I believe was to test for residue from bomb-making materials. I passed the bomb test and was told I could move on, but I hung around a moment and told everyone within listening range what I thought about this terrifying experience. So, this is what we’ve come to. The federal government now has a need to know where citizens are going and what they are doing before they are allowed to peacefully pass. I’m starting to wonder what separates us from Russia or Cuba. …TSA officers, being the brilliant people they are, are given the responsibility of picking out airline passengers “whose facial expressions, body language or other behavior indicate a security risk.” They are then subjected to a “chat down,” where officers interrogate you and decide if you are indeed a terrorist.

I confess I’m not as brave as Mr. Gunn. I wouldn’t want to risk missing a flight because a peevish bureaucrat deliberately delayed me. But I fully agree with his conclusion.

This program is a bizarre and outlandish violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is supposed to protect us from “unreasonable search and seizure” by agents of the government, unless they have probable cause. I doubt any judge would have considered my droopy face as sufficient cause for harassment. I lived through 9/11 and I understand the need for tight security at airports. …The idea is to keep dangerous materials that could be used in a terrorist attack off commercial airliners. Fair enough. But stopping people because they look sort of funny to security agents, and probing into their personal business, is going too far. What’s next? Check lanes on city streets, where jackbooted thugs from Washington, D.C., will stop everyone every morning to ask them where they’re going and what they’re up to? And if our answers are not what the government wants to hear, perhaps we’ll be sent home and put under surveillance, to make sure we’re not involved in anything that Big Brother doesn’t approve of. Our freedom is severely compromised when government is allowed to do this sort of thing. We are supposed to be presumed innocent and able to come and go as we please, as long as we don’t break any laws or give authorities reason to believe we may have. The “chat down” program has been a failure, by the way, at least according to a recent editorial published in USA Today. TSA officials interviewed about 725,000 travelers at Logan International Airport in Boston over the course of one year, and none of them turned out to be terrorists. ..There is no justification for this type of unwarranted harassment in America. Even people who look a little different should be allowed to move about as they please, unless they give authorities a specific reason to stop them.

So what’s all this mean? What’s the answer. Simple. Put the private sector in charge, as Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz have argued. As Steve Chapman explains, there were lots of benefits to the pre-TSA system.

(h/t: J.D. Tuccille)

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I don’t like discrimination by the government.

I’m even against government-sponsored discrimination when I’m the beneficiary.

It bothers me, for instance, that the Transportation Security Administration has special lines for people – like me – who have some sort of elite frequent-flyer status with one or more airlines.

I have no problem with United Airlines treating me well. I give them lots of money because they’re my main airline, so it’s good business practice for them to reward me with special treatment regarding boarding, seat assignments, and upgrades.

But the Transportation Security Administration has only one responsibility (don’t laugh), and that’s to make sure people don’t bring dangerous items on airplanes.

So why should I get VIP treatment from a government agency just because I fly a lot?

That might be justifiable if I paid extra, sort of like drivers who pay more to ride in H-O-T lanes.

It might be justifiable if I participated in some sort of pre-screening process that enabled me to bypass some or all of TSA’s pointless security apparatus – assuming, though, that the pre-screening process was open to everybody.

And maybe there are other examples where special treatment might be warranted, such as payments from the airlines to cover the costs of the VIP lanes.

But buying a first class ticket or being a frequent flyer should not be sufficient to get someone favoritism from the government.

P.S. This post does not imply I approve of the TSA’s performance. Indeed, I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence in previous posts. I’ve also shared some horror stories about TSA abuse. And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see thisthisthis, and this).

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I’ve commented on the TSA’s incompetence in previous posts.

I’ve also shared some horror stories about TSA abuse.

And I’ve posted many jokes about the Keystone Cops of airport security (for more laughs, see this, this, this, and this).

But this graphic, sent to me by Tony Shin, is a superb visual display of what the TSA really means.

TSA Waste
Created by: OnlineCriminalJusticeDegree.com

All of this underscores why the private sector would do a better job.

Unfortunately, the Obama White House seems more interested in using airport security as an opportunity to expand the universe of unionized bureaucrats.

And to make matters worse, it’s very distressing that the ideologues in the Obama Administration are trying to reverse the very successful policy of arming pilots (many of whom are former military).

Remember, this poster sums up everything that happens in Washington.

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