Mica Says the TSA Doesn’t Work
Time to Rethink the TSA
What Kate’s Saying
Rep. Mica Says the TSA Doesn’t Work
Rep. John Mica, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was a key player in the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration, is now as fed up as the rest of us. He has called for the TSA to be reevaluated and reorganized and airport security operations to be privatized.
Citing the almost endless litany of TSA fumbles, mistakes, and appalling behavior, Rep. Mica called the TSA a “bureaucratic nightmare” exceeding 7,000 supervisors and 3,526 administrators, each of whom averages over $100,000 a year. He also noted that the TSA is a $9 billion behemoth that has “failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years.”
The Examiner article in the link above details the many failings of the TSA, and we are well familiar with them.Their headline may be a bit overblown-they say he has called for the agency to be “dismantled.”We wish that he had.Still, his demand to Secretary Napolitano, where he expressed “the need for immediate reevaluation and reorganization of the TSA, an agency teetering on the verge of disaster,” is encouraging to hear.
On the other hand, we cannot support his plan to privatize the TSA. Congressman, you broke it, you fix it. We cannot endorse any solution that bestows virtually unlimited powers on contract personnel. The Constitution of the United States is clear on who can exercise police powers. This is a legitimate government task, and we cannot condone delegating that to non-government agents.
FlyersRights will follow his demands’ progress and keep you updated.
Time to Rethink the TSA
A recent article on the Truthout web site articulates the issues regarding the TSA. Truthout is a 501(c)3 U.S. news organization that runs a web site and distributes a daily newsletter. The article is quite long, but it offers an open-eyed examination of today’s agency and proposes a path towards a better TSA. Here’s a short summary of this very enlightening article, pointed out to us by long-time FlyersRights supporter and staff writer Dan Prall.
The TSA Today
Shocked by how easily the 9/11 hijackers were able to board their target aircraft, Congress formed TSA two months after that horrifying day. The first 50,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) were rushed through a one-week training course and hustled onto the front line, with very limited capability and almost unlimited power.
TSA is organized as a top-down entity, allowing little discretion to the officers and resulting in “well-intended, but outrageous conduct by its agents.” TSA is exempt from most civil service laws. Rather, the TSA Administrator had virtually unlimited authority to create the personnel system. Some changes have been made, but nothing has improved their personnel selection system. Personnel problems are a core failing of the agency. Arbitrary rule enforcement, unnecessary indignities to passengers, and luggage item theft are endemic problems.
One program enhancement is deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs). This is in line with the Israeli model of finding the bombers, not the bombs. Thousands of BDOs work in hundreds of airports today, but the program has never been scientifically evaluated. Worse, the BDOs are generally selected from screening officers and are given a scant two weeks of training before deployment.
How to Make it Better
The Truthout article goes right to the heart of the matter, saying “The essential question is whether TSA officers are security guards or police officers when it comes to the manner in which they lay hands on the bodies and belongings of passengers.” TSA mus
t develop officers capable of exercising much greater discretion. How can they do that?
Current selection pools are listed by date of application, not by qualification. Local managers must be allowed to pick the most qualified candidates rather than those quickest to apply. Police departments have used the civil service process for decades to establish priority lists of the most qualified candidates. In the current economy, there are millions of highly capable, well-educated people looking for work. The current TSA process is insane.
Current training consists mostly of standardized, online training applications. Online training is fine for teaching rule-based procedures, but a very poor medium for imparting the nuanced insights officers need to safely exercise discretion and do the right thing instead of what they believe to be the “book” thing.
Local managers must be allowed to promote officers and select supervisors from outside the organization, and to improve training for those supervisors and for BDOs. They should consider establishing regional training academies for that purpose.
Policies are broad guidelines for the exercise of discretion.Procedures and rules should be designed to support those policies.Absent effective policy, the exercise of critical discretion will fail.The media, and this newsletter, are filled with examples of those failures. With unclear guidance from above, officers essentially establish their own policy in their minds, based on their interpretations and perceptions.
Well thought-out policies would allow BDOs to more productively direct their attention to the most suspicious travelers, rather than mindlessly and repetitively asking every single traveler where they are going. The might then actually identify and stop an actual threat, rather than simply offending every loyal American they contact. Even more important, gate screeners would actually be able to use common sense, avoid strip searching grandmothers and five-year-olds, and focus their attention on likely threats.
The Right Direction
On June 2, 2011, Pistole testified before Congress that “we must ensure that each new step we take strengthens security. Since the vast majority of the 628 million annual air travelers present little to no risk of committing an act of terrorism, we should focus on those who present the greatest risk, thereby improving security and the travel experience for everyone else.” In a 2009 overview of the agency, they said they seek to evolve “from a top-down, follow-the-SOP [standard operating procedure] culture to a networked, critically-thinking, initiative-taking, proactive team environment.”
Yes Mister Administrator, we agree. It’s long past time to abandon security theater and move on to security assurance. It’s been two years since the TSA expressed the desire to evolve. In that time, positive steps have been tentative and halting. Congress has given TSA the power it needs to reinvent itself, and we strongly urge immediate, forceful action.
What Kate’s Saying
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