The Transportation Security Administration, created in the wake of 9/11, may well be disbanded. That is, if the very same Republican legislators behind the behemoth's creation get their way. Reports the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Transportation Security Administration, which hired some 65,000 employees and has spent more than $10 billion over 3-1/2 years, has been beset by complaints about its performance, leaving it vulnerable to congressional Republicans who want to reduce the size of government.

After the terrorist attacks, "people were panicked to put in place a massive bureaucracy," said House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica.

The Florida Republican says the time has come to rethink TSA and cut it back….

Mica and other Republicans, who were never entirely comfortable with creating a new bureaucracy, want to return all airport security screener jobs to the private sector, where they were before Sept. 11, 2001. If so, the federal screeners would get the first opportunity to apply for the private jobs.

Mica argues that private companies will do a better, more efficient job at the screening that currently is the TSA's primary function.

The law creating the Homeland Security Department has a sunset provision for the transportation security office. It says the TSA has only to be maintained as a distinct entity until November 2004….

But many Democrats believe the federal agency is needed to protect travelers. They say Republicans set it up to fail by refusing to give it enough money.

"I helped to create TSA, which is now being disassembled," said Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio.

The law creating TSA gave airports the choice of returning to privately employed screeners to check passengers and bags as of Nov. 19. An estimated 100 airports, out of 445 with TSA screeners, already have expressed interest in taking advantage of that option this fall.

"We will not go back to the days of private screeners," vowed Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Mica sees TSA's future as a limited agency that retains influence over the air security system….

"The TSA should set policy, do oversight, conduct audits, possibly do background checks," he said.

Reason's February cover story detailed the "sorry record" of the TSA. Read it here.

Given a few more stories like this one today about massive lines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, it'll likely be tough sledding for the TSA to hang onto its massive workforce.

NEXT: Rationality Around the World

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  1. But when a heavily regulated function is performed at taxpayer expense by private firms, you sometimes get what amounts to twice as many layers of management.

    Yep. What I want to know is, why is ANY part of flying supported “at taxpayer expense”? Other forms of transportation are expected to support themselves; or more often, denigrated because they do not.

  2. Patrick-

    I guess it’s because air security is now considered a matter of national security.

    If terrorists start resorting to car bombings in the US, and they use stolen cars, I wonder if car alarms will become a matter of national security. Actually, given how ineffective car alarms are (whenever I hear one go off I just ignore it, since they’re set on hair trigger), I think car alarms would be the perfect security measure in the eyes of the feds.

  3. Patrick: I defy you to name 1 mode of transportation in the US that isn’t supported by the government at some level:
    – Highways: supported by tax dollars, such as those collected from gas taxes and other revenue streams,
    – railroads: subsidies abound here, including the pension plan for railroad workers.
    – waterborne: Supported by the Army Corps of Engineers (for the Missippi River for example), the Coast Guard and many ports are operated by governmental agencies, such as the one here in San Diego.

  4. Private or not you are likely going to have “massive lines,” since the criteria for enforcement, etc. will come from the government.

  5. Thank God, now these incompetent half wits will have some real consequences when they push their power too far.

  6. Are these long lines really that common? I’ve never had to wait more than 5-10 minutes for passenger screening; maybe I’m flying out of some smaller or less busy airports (St. Louis, Kansas City, Oakland, Albuquerque, Baltimore…).

    Now lines at customs coming back into the country are an entirely different matter. Those lines always seem to be long (and the customs workers are generally rather surly).

  7. I’m going to share the anecdote that I always share when privatization comes up.

    I have no a priori objections to privatization, and if properly done it can bring huge benefits. But when a heavily regulated function is performed at taxpayer expense by private firms, you sometimes get what amounts to twice as many layers of management. And if the function is heavily regulated then it’s costly and difficult to change contractors. Sort of like how it’s difficult to fire a public employee.

    One summer in college I interned at a Department of Energy (booh! hiss!) lab run by a private contractor. Although interns are hardly in the inner circle of administration, it seemed like the place was run according to every stereotype you hear about the gov’t, and I never once heard a word about efficiency or profit.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to private screeners. But I’m not holding my breath for miraculous improvements either. If private screeners are bound by the exact same rules as TSA screeners, and if we spend the same amount per screener but some of that money is skimmed off the top by the private company’s management, don’t be shocked if we don’t get top-of-the-line security.

    What it comes down to is that we need competent people working by sensible rules. Every dollar spent on layers of administration (be it private sector or public sector) is a dollar that could have been spent luring talent. Whether it’s the private sector’s mall cops or the public sector’s DMV crew, low-budget talent will yield low-budget results. And whether the onerous regulations are passed directly from a gov’t bureaucrat to the screeners, or instead pass through a private sector intermediary (to be placed on company letter-head), the result will be the same: Screeners who successfully intercept every tweezers but let the undercover inspectors smuggle guns and bombs right through.

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