“The bloated bureaucratic … TSA is not what Congress intended”

by Guest Post on December 30, 2010


Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee wrote this column. It originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinal as an Op-Ed piece.

America remains at risk for terrorist attack, and the Transportation Security Administration urgently needs redirection and refocusing of its operations.

My calls for TSA reform are intended to improve the agency’s performance, not to do away with it. Contrary to some reports, I do not advocate turning over to the private sector, airports or airlines the agency’s vital security-oversight functions.

My concern is that this important government agency, which I helped establish by law after 9-11, has become a bloated, poorly focused and top-heavy bureaucracy. Unfortunately, TSA does not perform as well as it should to ensure our nation’s transportation security.

TSA has grown from 16,500 screeners to an army approaching 67,000 personnel. In Washington, D.C., TSA administrative staff this year includes 3,680 individuals making an average salary of $105,000 per year. Another 8,000-plus administrative positions have been created across the country. This was never the intent of Congress when the TSA was established.

Before TSA was created, airlines provided for passenger screening. The failure to stop the 9-11 attacks arose from the federal government’s failure to set appropriate, threat-based performance standards and guidelines for passenger screening.

Since that time, nearly all of TSA’s security measures have been taken after a terrorist attack was attempted. Examples include banning box cutters after 9-11, removing shoes after the shoe bomber, liquid limitations after the liquid-bomb plot, enhanced pat downs after the underwear bomber and now limiting the shipment of toner cartridges on cargo aircraft.

Without the proper focus and attention to changing threat assessments and the establishment of adequate standards to address those threats, TSA will always be reacting to the last terrorist event and not preparing for the next mode of terrorist attack.

Rather than operate a huge screening force and human-resources operation, TSA must refocus and direct its mission to develop and implement the best security protocols and procedures to ensure transportation security while balancing the needs of travelers and the needs of commerce.

Rather than trying to perform all security functions itself — operator, administrator, auditor and regulator — TSA would better invest its time and efforts by focusing on individuals who pose threats, elevating intelligence and setting standards that address current security risks. A properly constructed security structure puts the regulator in a position to independently oversee and audit security performance, and to ensure that personnel, assets and technologies are properly deployed and perform at the highest levels.

Private-security passenger-screening operations under TSA supervision is not a new concept. In fact, airports have operated with this arrangement since TSA was formed. The pilot program incorporating this private-federal screening model at five airports was established under the adopting legislation for the TSA. Congress provided that after two years, all other airports could elect to use the same screening model, and airports like San Francisco, Kansas City and Rochester are excellent examples of this successful model.

Evaluations and covert testing comparing the performance of the initial five pilot-program airports to the all-federal-model airports have indicated that private screeners performed, statistically, significantly better than or equal to federal screeners. Given the improved performance, inherent efficiencies and potential cost savings, private security screening operations — under federal supervision — can improve passenger screening. This model also allows TSA to focus on security, not managing a huge bureaucracy.

The bloated bureaucratic approach to aviation and transportation security we now witness with TSA is not what Congress intended. The TSA should reform its operating model to provide for improved aviation security.

Adopting the airport-screening model that performs best and allows TSA to focus its energies on security oversight is absolutely essential. Not only will we have better performance in passenger screening; we can eliminate significant costs and redirect TSA to its needed security mission.

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  • Hapgood

    Perhaps Mr. Mica could explain why it’s better to allow an employee of a private contractor to view our naked bodies, grope our intimate areas, and capriciously interpret vague guidelines than for federal employees to do it. Mr. Mica doesn’t seem to mention imposing accountability and rationality on the TSA as part of his proposal. The TSA currently operates without oversight, so why should airport security be any different with the TSA overseeing private contractors while continuing to operate without its own oversight?

    What it sounds like is he merely wants to impose the classic Republican dogma of privatization and “starving the beast,” while leaving the TSA’s absurd security theatre production intact and administered by for-profit corporations. I don’t see how that would improve anything. Nor do I see how it would save any money. The private screeners still have to be paid similar salaries to their TSA counterparts. But the private corporations add executives who are entitled to lavish compensation, as well as shareholders who are entitled to spectacular quarterly profits. Someone will have to pay for these entitlements, either taxpayers or (more likely) the Chinese bankers who own our growing deficit.

    Mr. Mica is only pretending to address the TSA’s many longstanding problems.

  • Ituri

    I always find it odd when high ranking officials in transportation and security blame our airport security for 9-11. In all truth, our airport security WORKED on 9-11. Box-cutters had never needed banning, they were legal to take aboard.

    What did fail? The several US information services that refused and failed to address and share information gained about the Al Quada cells we ALREADY KNEW were in operation. The Clinton Admin warned the Bush Admin about the growing threat of airline terrorism, and specified Al Quada as a threat.

    Blaming airport security is a clear dodge of the issues inherent. Reactive protection is as good as no protection at all. The invasive techniques employed by the TSA will be no less invasive by a private security firm. No less a waste of time and resources as well.

  • Bea

    ABOLISH TSA.
    Mica is a charlatan and fool who is thoroughly discredited for foisting this tyrannical and utterly absurd agency on us. Why anyone would listen to him, let alone reprint his twaddle, is beyond me.
    ABOLISH TSA. RESTORE AMERICA.

  • Grayson

    Perhaps we could just give security back to the airlines. This is the best way to insure safe airlines. Obviously the airlines are happy to have TSA because then they don’t take any of the heat. Remember the good old days when they were responsible for their planes? If they did a bad job at security and allowed several terrorists on board their planes, (Pan Am, TWA) people stopped flying them and they went bankrupt. This is the best incentive for our airlines because they will realize how important safety is because it impacts the bottom line, and that is the primary concern of the airlines. Terrorists have historically targeted the largest airline, First Pan Am, now Delta, and I’m sure United will have to deal with it soon, but if we allow the responsibility for our safety in the skies to fall on people who have nothing to lose, why should we feel safe? If the screeners were employed by the airline and someone made it through, people would lose their jobs. Lives are at risk and I’ll be damned if I am going to trust mine to the fat guy who always wanted to be a cop but couldn’t hack it, or that single mother who just got her GED last year, or Eugene who came out of retirement because he lost all of his money in the crash. When you have the government in charge, no one is responsible, and that is how they like it. If you make the airlines do it themselves, then you have some people who know their necks are on the line, and like it or not; that is the ONLY way to assure your and my safety in the skies.

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