Airport security fees should go toward airport security, not the general fund

by Charlie Leocha on December 5, 2013

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The House-Senate budget negotiating panel is wheeling and dealing to try to come up with a minimalist solution to sequestration cuts. It seems since taxes, on the Republican side, is a four-letter word and Democrats are dreaming of more revenues to fund an ever-increasing government, reaching agreement will not be easy.

But, with a small redefinition of targeted fees that will act like taxes and go to the general fund, Republicans seem willing to call a tax increase a fee increase and raise revenues.

What does budget sequestration have to do specifically with travelers? Not too much, but travelers, specifically, are being targeted with a TSA security fee increase, much of which will go to the general fund, not to TSA or any kind of airport security. Congress might as well call any TSA Security Fee increase a budget balancing fee or change the name to a security tax. Too bad it isn’t already listed as a tax; it might avoid any increases.

“To replace the sequester cuts, officials close to the talks said, lawmakers [on the House-Senate negotiating panel] are looking at increasing airport-security fees, cutting costs in federal employee retirement programs and drawing on revenue from the auction of broadband spectrum,” according to the Wall Street Journal. (Italics added)

Doesn’t TSA have enough of our money? Plus, with all of the other taxes we travelers have to pay, why load more onto us? Spread the burden.

A better way to balance the budget is to slash funding for TSA. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has already eyeballed one TSA program that could save much of the money that is being raised by the proposed fee increase — the Behavior Detection Program.

According to TSA, in testimony titled, “TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities,” released on November 14, 2013,

…our review of meta-analyses (studies that analyze other studies and synthesize their findings) that included findings from over 400 studies related to detecting deception conducted over the past 60 years, other academic and government studies, and interviews with experts in the field, called into question the use of behavior observation techniques, that is, human observation unaided by technology, as a means for reliably detecting deception.

In other words, the program doesn’t work. “Until TSA can provide scientifically validated evidence demonstrating that behavioral indicators can be used to identify passengers who may pose a threat to aviation security, the agency risks funding activities that have not been determined to be effective,” the 99-page report determined.

The current Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) behavior detection program costs about $200 million per year to field 3,000 behavior-detection officers at 176 airports, according to GAO.

Under today’s law, airline passengers already pay a $2.50 Transportation Security Administration fee every time they board a plane, up to a maximum of $5 per trip. The White House has proposed a $5 flat charge for each one-way trip. But, the deal doesn’t stop there — the fee would increase by 50 cents every year until 2019, when it would reach $7.50. With more than 200 million airline travelers, the Office of Management and Budget estimates that such a change would, over 10 years, bring in an additional $25.9 billion. These funds would be split to partially cover costs for the TSA and potentially reduce the deficit by $18 billion.

While the airline passenger volume has decreased by 11 percent over the past five years, TSA’s total budget has skyrocketed by 18 percent. Simply put, TSA doesn’t need any more of our money. They need to use the money effectively by good management practices and the elimination of boondoggle programs like the behavior detection adventure that has cost the public almost a billion dollars since its inception.

Let the House-Senate budget conference committee look at how to pare back TSA rather than throw more money at the organization while skimming off a bit for budget balancing. We travelers are paying user fees for airports, for the air traffic control system and for TSA every time we fly. The money the government collects as user fees with the sale of each airline ticket should be applied to the aviation system, not used for general budget funding.

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