Conflict of Interest Still a Live Issue for TSA

Bob Poole recently wrote this for his newsletter on aviation secturity. . . Last year when I testified on airport screening before a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, one of my key points was that TSA has a built-in conflict of interest. In the legislation that created the agency, Congress made it both the transportation security regulator and the provider of a major airport security service, passenger and bag screening. I’ve made this point also in policy papers, conference presentations, and in this newsletter. Alas, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears, perhaps in part because while people could appreciate that a conflict exists in theory, it did not look as if there was much of a problem, in practice. But three recent events illustrate that the conflict is very real. One was the widely reported Red Team testing of screening at Newark, in which the team beat the screeners 20 out of 22 times. A second, reported last week by Annie Jacobsen at National Review Online (Nov. 28th), concerned a four-foot sword (!) that a passenger managed to carry on board an American plane at Dallas-Fort Worth. And the third, also reported by Jacobsen, was an incident at Kona, Hawaii, in which a baggage screener accidentally dropped a binder of information designated SSI (Sensitive Security Information) into a passenger’s luggage while it was being screened. The passenger, Navy veteran Joe Langer, only discovered the binder when he unpacked the bag the next day. What is most interesting about all three incidents is the TSA’s response. TSA spokesman Nico Melendez had “no comment” for Jacobsen regarding the sword, and called the SSI binder incident a “fumble.” My assessment is that they hoped both would get as little attention as possible, to avoid further embarrassment of the agency. As for Newark, TSA dispatched an investigation team to try to figure out . . . not why the screening performance was so miserable but who leaked the report to the media. This is “cover your ass” writ largeââ?¬â??and it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens when one and the same agency writes the rules and then operates under them. Imagine instead what would have happened if these screening failures had been the responsibility of airport employees or a private screening contractor. TSA would have no institutional self-interest to protect; its focus would clearly be on figuring out what caused these performance failures and disciplining the responsible parties (and I don’t mean the whistleblowers!). Rep. William Pascrell (D., NJ), a member of the Homeland Security Committee, defended the unknown Newark whistleblower. But if he wants to fix the underlying problem, he should look into legislation that would devolve the screening function to the airports, resolving the conflict of interest problem once and for all.

Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. Moore leads Reason's policy implementation efforts and conducts his own research on topics such as privatization, government and regulatory reform, air quality, transportation and urban growth, prisons and utilities.

Moore, who has testified before Congress on several occasions, regularly advises federal, state and local officials on ways to streamline government and reduce costs.

In 2008 and 2009, Moore served on Congress' National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. The commission offered "specific recommendations for increasing investment in transportation infrastructure while at the same time moving the Federal Government away from reliance on motor fuel taxes toward more direct fees charged to transportation infrastructure users." Since 2009 he has served on California's Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission.

Mr. Moore is co-author of the book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, "Speaking from our experiences in Texas, Sam Staley and Adrian Moore get it right in Mobility First." World Bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

Moore is also co-author of Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, published in 1997 by the Brookings Institution Press, as well as dozens of policy studies. His work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Orange County Register, as well as in, Public Policy and Management, Transportation Research Part A, Urban Affairs Review, Economic Affairs, and numerous other publications.

In 2002, Moore was awarded a World Outsourcing Achievement Award by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Michael F. Corbett & Associates Ltd. for his work showing governments how to use public-private partnerships and the private sector to save taxpayer money and improve the efficiency of their agencies.

Prior to joining Reason, Moore served 10 years in the Army on active duty and reserves. As an noncommissioned officer he was accepted to Officers Candidate School and commissioned as an Infantry officer. He served in posts in the United States and Germany and left the military as a Captain after commanding a Heavy Material Supply company.

Mr. Moore earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Irvine. He holds a Master's in Economics from the University of California, Irvine and a Master's in History from California State University, Chico.