Out of Control Policy Blog

TSA Doesn't Look Into Airport Security Screener Failures

USA Today's Thomas Frank reports:

"A government program to find gaps in airport screening is "a waste of money" because it doesn't follow up on why screeners failed to spot guns, knives and bombs on undercover agents, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee says. A Government Accountability Office report obtained by USA TODAY says Transportation Security Administration inspectors posing as passengers do not record why individual screeners failed to spot weapons. The TSA ran 20,000 covert tests at the USA's 450 commercial airports from 2002 to 2007, and the results ought to be used to improve screening, the report says The TSA disputed the report and said it has adopted many new screening practices and technologies to close holes revealed by testing. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., plans a hearing next month to press the TSA on making better use of covert tests. "You have a system that's supposed to strengthen airport security, but you don't use the results of the tests to do exactly what you're doing the tests for," Thompson said. "It's obviously a waste of money."

The legislation creating the TSA gave it a built-in conflict of interest. It is primarily a transportation security regulator, making security rules and enforcing them, not only on airports but also on seaports, mass transit agencies, railroads, and trucking companies. But at airports Congress insisted that the very same agency also be the provider of two security services–passenger screening and checked-baggage screening. So that when security lapses occur in those two areas, the TSA is not an arm's length enforcer of the rules; instead, it's stuck with egg on its face. The natural reaction of a bureaucracy in cases like that is to protect its own–which is what GAO has discovered it doing in the wake of its screeners' dismal performance when up against undercover agents. This problem will not be solved until Congress takes away the screening functions from TSA, which it could do by delegating these functions to the airports (which are already responsible for access control, perimeter security, and most other security functions–all under TSA regulatory oversight).

Reason Foundation's Airport Security Research

Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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