Fixing Airport Security–Not More, but Better

As my colleague Bob Poole noted the other day, “Since its creation in 2004, the Transportation Security Administration has spent $40 billion on aviation security. Yet an amateur terrorist succeeded in getting on board Northwest flight 253 with a well-known type of explosive concealed on his person.”

Yes, 8 years since 9/11 and $40 billion, and the only thing that saved the lives of those on that plane was the wary among them. The system we have is not working.

I am disturbed to see that the most prominent response to this attempted terrorist act is cries for the TSA to spend billions more on full-body screening machines. I’ve been hearing that all over talk radio, and Business Week confirms “Calls for Full-Body Screening Grow“.

But a Tuesday Washington Post story (read it here) noted “The foiled attack confirmed repeated warnings about mismanagement and waste in devising new safeguards.” The article goes on to discuss “a long series of public and confidential government findings that the massive push for new high-technology systems – some of them promising almost science-fiction-like abilities to detect and communicate threats – often has fallen short. According to these findings, billions of dollars are being wasted on systems that do not work or are behind schedule.”

And perhaps most damning of all “A plan that would have helped focus the development of better screening technology and procedures – including a risk-based assessment of aviation threats – is almost two years overdue, according to a report this fall by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.”

How can people respond to this attempted attack by saying the most important thing to do is give more new equipment to an agency that over and over shows it cannot plan for or manage the equipment it already has?? How about we start by putting the TSA management in a room with some coffee and donuts and don’t let them come out until they have a strategic plan for airport security? Then we demand they implement procedures to effectively use existing equipment effectively? THEN, if they can do that, we look at what new equipment they need.

We can improve our safety by throwing more tech at it. The people using the tech have be using it strategically and correctly, or else it is just more toys for them, and more delays for us, and amature terrorists can still penetrate the system.