Airport Lines and the TSA: Your Government Is Failing You

We're not any safer, just more miserable.



This summer, air travel is for people who expect to go to hell and want to know what it will be like. Security lines have reached epic lengths in many airports. Thousands of travelers have missed flights. And the Transportation Security Administration now advises passengers to arrive two hours before departure for domestic flights—and three in some places. 

The agency in charge of aviation security has become a major problem. That's odd, because it was supposed to be a solution. Nearly 15 years after it was created, it's a case study of how firm, well-intentioned government intervention can produce an exploding cigar. 

The agency came into being because of the 9/11 attacks, carried out by terrorists who commandeered airliners. A large share of the blame was heaped on airport security firms that didn't intercept the hijackers. 

This lapse was not merely the failure of the workers manning the X-ray machines at the nation's airports. It was, we were told, a failure of the private sector, which was responsible for screening—and the only reliable way to prevent future attacks was to turn security over to the federal government. 

A few weeks after the attacks, House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt took the House floor to lament the existing system. "The companies that have been doing this have failed the American people," he declared. "We must put security in the hands of law enforcement officers." 

His was a common sentiment. Private contractors, we were told, paid their screeners too little, hired employees without adequate background checks and sometimes missed weapons being taken through checkpoints. When Republicans argued for keeping these operators but monitoring them better, Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., scorned the idea: "We've had private contractors with government supervision in the past, and we ended up with 5,000 dead." 

It wasn't exactly fair to blame the screeners for 9/11. The knives and box cutters reportedly used by the hijackers were not prohibited at the time. The 9/11 Commission faulted the Federal Aviation Administration because its policies "were aimed at keeping bombs out of baggage, not at keeping planes from being turned into guided missiles." Flight crews were trained not to resist hijackers—which made it easy for the terrorists to take over the planes. 

In spite of all that, Congress insisted on establishing the TSA, which today has some 55,000 employees, an annual budget of $7.44 billion and an aversion to self-criticism. 

Explaining the recent mammoth delays, it said, "Individuals who come to the TSA checkpoint unprepared for a trip can have a negative impact on the time it takes to complete the screening process." Administrator Peter Neffenger said he was sorry about the people stranded in Chicago last weekend but added, "I won't apologize for doing our job well." 

No need, since that accusation has not been heard. The delays would be easier to bear if screeners were relentlessly proving their value. But last year, in an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, undercover agents got banned items past screeners in 95 percent of their attempts. 

"After spending over $540 million on baggage screening equipment and millions more on training, the failure rate today is higher than it was in 2007," complained Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "Something is not working." 

Actually, more than one thing is not working. The agency's culture also undermines safety. "Dozens of Transportation Security Administration employees in recent years have been reassigned, demoted, investigated or fired for reporting lapses or misconduct by senior managers, charges that were later upheld by whistle-blower protection agencies," The New York Times reported last month. 

One remedy the agency offers for the recent long lines is for the airlines to stop charging for checked bags, which would mean fewer carry-ons to be inspected. Nice of the TSA to suggest that someone forgo revenue for the greater good, but it hasn't proposed to do the same—say, by waiving the $85 PreCheck fee to induce more people to sign up for expedited screening. 

Even that option might not help, because the agency is already having trouble keeping up with applications. If you want an appointment at one of the Chicago-area sites, expect to wait until July. 
One advantage of using private companies to do airport screening is that if they make a botch of it, you can fire them. What would it take for the TSA to get fired? 

© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc. 

NEXT: Libertarian Party History: 2004, the Year The Guy No One Thought Would Win The Presidential Nomination Won

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  1. PreCheck requires fingerprints. What could possibly go wrong? Hey I thought of a new tag line for us: “Libertarians: Threatening to feed government officials feet first into woodchippers since 2014.” What do you think?

  2. New TSA slogan: We Won’t Hold The Door For You

  3. What would it take for the TSA to get fired?

    A Libertarian president, for a start.


  4. Ah yes, the Belgian terrorists targeted the lines and bottlenecks at ticketing and security, since they present large clusters of targets in an unscreened area. So of course the TSA responds by making the security bottleneck worse.

    1. Ya gotta start asking: Is it a mistake or is it the plan?

  5. Nearly 15 years after it was created, it’s a case study of how firm, well-intentioned government intervention can produce an exploding cigar.

    “We take all comments about bombs seriously, Sir. Please step over here.”

  6. As many times as I’ve flown with banned items, I’ve only once had that item removed from my bag at a checkpoint. One out of probably 50. So the TSA has a 2% success rate in detecting and removing banned items from my luggage.

    And the saddest part is, the “item” is the same type of item the 9/11 terrorists used, razor blades.

    1. They found my 12 ounce tub of “Top the Tater” dip in my carry-on bag. Latched on to that bad-boy like a dog with a bone. My 10 ounce bottle of shampoo that had maybe an ounce at the bottom…. Yup, found that. My 3 ounce bottle of cologne that had maybe 0.1 oz at the bottom? Yup. Found that. That full-sized tube of toothpaste that was all rolled up because you had to squeeze really hard to get just that tiny last little bit? You know it!

      But the multi-tool with a 3 inch blade that got shoved in the wrong bag? Nah, missed that.

      1. Pens and pencils? No problemo!

    2. They missed my dive knife when I went to Australia to dive the Great Barrier Reef.

  7. It isn’t like this wasn’t the exact result that people were predicting when the Democrats insisted on nationalizing airport security.

    Of course at the time those folks were treated as if they were claiming that the moon landing was a hoax….

    1. I blame the fucktard general public for this way more than I blame politicians. People have this disease that makes them believe government involvement makes them safer.

      Taking a step back, airlines are really the ones that should be providing security. They are the ones with the profit motive. But try convincing our mentally challenged citizenry of that.

    2. Well I blame Jason Chaffetz. Stop complaining and do something on this instead of trying to get the DC mayor jailed over marijuana reforms. I really hate that sob for that.

  8. New Bernie slogan – We’ll fix healthcare the way we fixed air travel.

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  10. It’s not so much the “agency” that’s having trouble keeping up with PreCheck applications…

    It’s the private firm hired to handle PreCheck enrollment, MorphoTrust USA (Safran).

    Presumably it is the act of paying that contractor that also makes it hard to waive the fee. As a news organization, you may be able to find the contract and see if it’s even possible for TSA to adjust the fee, as presumably any unilateral edit to it by DHS would be an infringement of the private sector’s rights, no?

    The private sector is not a panacea, and doubly so when it is hired by the government.

    1. No, the private sector isn’t a panacea. It can’t solve all problems. Most problems don’t even have solutions, just trade offs.

      But it’s still ten times better than any government could do.

  11. What would it take for the TSA to get fired?

    If history is any indication, a civil war.

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  13. RE: Airport Lines and the TSA: Your Government Is Failing You
    We’re not any safer, just more miserable.

    1. Your government is failing you.
    So what else is new.

    2. Of course were not any safer yet more miserable.
    Isn’t that what Big Government is for?

  14. Every time I’ve been to a domestic airport in the last five years, I’ve seen TSA agents just fucking around, doing nothing. There’s usually at least two rank-and-file guys just standing around idle, and 3-4 supervisors doing jack. They’ll have 6 or 8 stations they could open, but only 2 screening stations open at a time. A month ago, I was at SeaTac watching as they had TWO agents just waving people toward the start of the queue. Because we couldn’t figure that out without two $20/hour uniformed hoochies pointing out where we enter the line.

    It’s infuriating that a bunch of slack-jawed pieces of trailer and ghetto trash who barely got through high school have fooled our elected “representatives” into believing the bottlenecks are because there aren’t ENOUGH agents. No. The bottlenecks are because you’ve got too many agents standing around with their barely-opposable thumbs up their asses, most of whom are hired for reasons that have nothing to do with their competency, trustworthiness, or knowledge of anything to do with security.

    TSA is like a poster child for modeling the very worst of government uselessness. Everything they do, every purchase, every plan, every directive they make is like a test to see how much wasteful, stupid fuckery a government program can contain and exhibit without imploding. There is not a single redeeming thing about TSA, except possibly that they might not have killed anyone yet. Might, I say.

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