- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2011

In good news for weary travelers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced a cut back in the number of boys and girls it will grope over the holidays. The bad news is that agency bureaucrats made the same promise after last year’s Turkey Day. It wasn’t true then, either.

Videos posted on YouTube showing young children subjected to strip searches during Thanksgiving 2010 touched off a firestorm of criticism. TSA Administrator John S. Pistole was hauled before Congress for an explanation. “The bottom line is few people in the overall scheme of things will actually receive those pat-downs,” Mr. Pistole testified. Children were said to receive a “modified pat down” that treated them with respect and dignity. More shocking videos proved the claim to be untrue.

The TSA minister of propaganda known as “Blogger Bob” insisted satisfaction with TSA procedures was widespread because, “The number of complaints is extremely low” over the pat-downs. There’s a reason for that.

Travelers at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport who tell a security manager that they wish to file a complaint aren’t asked to document their concern on the spot. Instead, as experienced by Washington Times staff, they’re handed a three-inch strip of paper with contact information for the TSA claims-management office. They’re also instructed to visit the TSA blog. It’s not surprising that few have waded through the confusing layers of bureaucracy just to register an opinion that they know is going to be ignored.

TSA has a habit of blowing off public concerns, as an investigation earlier this month by ProPublica and the PBS NewsHour showed. TSA evaded Food and Drug Administration certification of the x-rated X-ray machines through which millions of passengers are forced to pass if they want to fly, even though airport x-ray scanners for luggage do face FDA scrutiny. The European Commission ruled Nov. 10 that it made sense “to safeguard citizens’ health and safety” by pulling back the trial use of the technology until the medical evidence is settled.

The radiation concern may or may not be overblown, but neither the nude photography nor the inappropriate touching by TSA personnel serve any legitimate purpose beyond showing the government is “doing something” about security. What the agency is not doing is providing useful intelligence to airlines and the transportation industry. As the Government Accountability Office concluded in a Nov. 21 report, “Because TSA has not clearly defined and documented roles and responsibilities for disseminating security-related information and the full range of its information-sharing efforts, TSA may not be consistently providing security-related information products to external stakeholders. …”

For the past 10 years, TSA has molested the public without catching a single terrorist. It’s time to admit the federalized model has been a failure and privatize operations. Doing so would be far more meaningful than the annual, empty holiday promise from the agency’s chief.

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