To improve aviation security, the Transportation Security Administration should be phased out of performing passenger and baggage screening and the U.S. should implement a risk-based airport security model like that used by Israel and most of Europe, according to a new report by the Reason Foundation, a free market think tank.
The Reason Foundation study concludes that the TSA should set and enforce rules and standards for baggage and passenger screening, but should no longer perform those functions. Instead, airports should be allowed to hire their own screeners, with TSA oversight, or use TSA-certified contractors.
Israeli airports and 19 of the 20 busiest airports in Europe currently employ the model urged by Reason Foundation — airport-based screeners strictly following standards set and enforced by a government agency.
"Reason takes a well-timed look at the post-9/11 security changes and suggests several reforms, including the adoption of risk-management principles and greater innovations in security management and responsibilities that are both timely and will help set the agenda for policymakers in the future. Especially important are their comparisons between the U.S. model and those employed by other advanced democracies," stated Stephen D. Van Beek, executive vice president for policy at Airports Council International — North America, whose airport members handle nearly all domestic and international airline passenger and air cargo traffic in North America.
"We've learned a great deal since 9/11 and it is time to put that knowledge to use," said Robert Poole, an advisor to the last four presidential administrations and author of the Reason study. "We can fix the fundamental flaws in our airport security system and focus more resources on passengers and cargo that pose the biggest threat."
The Reason study says the U.S. needs to remove the inherent conflict of interest in our airport security system, with TSA serving as both regulator and provider. "TSA has been given billions of dollars and allowed to grade themselves," Poole said. "We have a powerful agency in charge of a vital part of national security, but they are not accountable to anyone. TSA should set standards and enforce them, with airports handling security functions. That would give us better, more integrated security with real accountability."
Devolving the funding and responsibility for screening to airports would give the airports powerful incentives to upgrade their baggage screening systems and make them less labor-intensive. At larger airports, this would mean replacing lobby-based explosive detection system (EDS) machines with automated, "in-line" EDS systems. At smaller airports, labor-intensive electronic trace-detection systems could be replaced by EDS machines transferred from larger airports. The study estimates these changes would save over $700 million per year.
The Reason study also details how airport security could be altered to a risk-based model that would separate passengers into three groups: low-risk, high-risk, and ordinary. Low-risk travelers would be those who undergo background checks and qualify for Registered Traveler status. They would get expedited checkpoint processing and their bags could usually bypass EDS screening. This change would cut future EDS acquisition costs by $1 to 2 billion, and yield another $200 million in annual savings by trimming baggage screener costs. High-risk travelers, people we know very little about or have specific, negative information about, would receive mandatory body scans and explosive-detection inspection of both checked and carry-on baggage. All other travelers would fall into the ordinary traveler category and would experience airport security screening similar to today's process.
"Overall, this set of risk-based changes would put much greater emphasis on guarding against the threat of explosives getting onto planes as well as the threat of suicide bombers in terminals and on planes," Poole said.
Full Report Online
The full study, Airport Security: Time for a New Model, is available online at www.reason.org/ps340.pdf. More Reason airport security research and commentary is available at http://www.reason.org/airportsecurity/index.shtml.
About the Author
The study's author, Robert Poole, is director of transportation at the Reason Foundation. He advised several members of Congress and the White House Domestic Policy Council following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Poole, who served on the Bush-Cheney transition team in 2000-01, has counseled the last four presidential administrations on transportation issues.
Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason. For more information, please visit www.reason.org.
Robert Poole, Director of Transportation, Reason Foundation, (310) 292-2386
Chris Mitchell, Media Relations, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109