- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2012

With the holidays fast approaching, many Americans are preparing to take to the skies to visit family. A time that ought to be filled with joy often turns to a time of dread thanks to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) need to pretend it is doing something to thwart terrorism. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report suggests TSA is more concerned with self-preservation.

Congress in 2002 set up a program giving airports the option of having private employees conduct screening operations. Unfortunately, TSA was put in charge of deciding which locations could participate. A total of 16 out of 440 commercial airports nationwide got into the program before TSA Administrator John S. Pistole slammed the door shut last year. According to GAO, the airports seeking to ditch the unionized federal screeners sought better customer service and greater workplace flexibility. Airport operators realize a bad experience at the hands of the blue-gloved thugs encouraged travelers to get in a car or take a train to reach their destination. As GAO explained, “Passengers who have negative encounters with the screening process generally associate their experiences with the specific airport.”

The screener partnership program takes a baby step in the right direction. Private screeners still must follow TSA protocols, so there’s no escape from being electronically undressed and photographed by X-ray machines or from gratuitous groping. Even with these severe limitations, top Democrats want the TSA to continue rejecting applications to the program “until the costs and possible benefits can be accurately assessed,” as Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, urged.

Right now, the performance of private screeners is assessed under a process directed by TSA. It’s not particularly surprising that this government agency is going to do everything it can to limit potential competition. Congressional auditors found, “TSA has not conducted regular reviews comparing private and federal screener performance and does not have plans to do so.” The agency isn’t about to document its own relative failure.

That’s also why TSA does its best to avoid receiving complaints. At Ronald Reagan Airport, for example, angry flyers aren’t given a form they can turn in on the spot to document their concerns. Instead, they’re handed a tiny, easily lost sliver of paper containing TSA’s website and mailing address. According to GAO, “TSA officials at four of the six airports also said that the agency could do more to share best practices for informing passengers about complaint processes.” Once a complaint is received, it’s not even handled in a way that is “fair, impartial, and credible.” Making it difficult — and pointless — to complain enables the agency’s in-house propagandist, Blogger Bob, to boast of a low rate of complaints received.

Discouraging public feedback and blocking the private screener partnership is all about keeping TSA’s 46,057 employees on a $7 billion gravy train. Yet for all the money and hassle, the agency hasn’t caught a single terrorist. It’s time to give airports the free choice of private screening without TSA interference or direction.

The Washington Times