The last thing air travelers need during the bustling, holiday season, is compromised security on their journeys. Unfortunately, there’s a slight problem — TSA.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), guardian of air travel safety, has breached its own security and is riddled with problems. Just last week, for example, news agencies discovered that TSA agents had effectively and publicly posted their agency’s classified blue-prints to airport security screenings, because they didn’t know how PDF documents work. No joke. Due to their ignorance, things such as a VIP list of flyers who would not be screened, items that would make their way through the airport unexamined, details indicating what size electrical wire can go undetected by airport screening machines (and more) — all high-value information for potential terrorists and bomb makers – is now public knowledge.
Another reason for the problems plaguing TSA may be the fact that, nearly a full year into the presidency of Barack Obama, there still is no permanent director at the helm of this key security agency. Political squabbling over Obama’s pick for the top TSA post — Erroll Southers, currently assistant chief for homeland security at Los Angeles International Airport – has kept the post vacant. South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint has placed a hold on Souther’s confirmation — not, apparently because of concerns with the Californian’s security credentials, but because DeMint worries he might move to unionize TSA’s thousands of workers (a move the Senate would have to approve at any rate).
TSA suffered yet another embarassing media moment earlier this year, when it stepped far outside its scope of authority — guarding against weapons or explosives making their way on board commercial aircraft – and detained a member of Rep. Ron Paul’s congressional staff because he was carrying a metal box full of cash — not C-4 explosive — in his carry-on luggage. Unbeknownst to his TSA detainers, the staffer recorded the incident on his i-Phone . The resulting publicity focused national attention on what exactly TSA’s duties are. The silver lining in this TSA cloud was a clarification of the agency’s jurisdiction — which now very explicitly does not extend to the carrying of US greenbacks on board an aircraft.
Even former TSA inspector general Clark Kent Ervin as admitted that, “there has been a pattern of incompetence and ineptitude on the part of the TSA over the years.” Lack of leadership, mission creep, and hiring missteps have led to legitimate questions being raised about whether a single, massive federal agency can maintain the discipline, focus and professionalism needed to carry out the vital task of ensuring that weapons or explosives remain on the ground and not in the air.
This holiday season, as many millions of American citizens and foreign visitors traverse our country’s many airports, Congress should make it top priority to buckle down, address the problems that have plagued TSA, and at least install a permanent director. Such a move would pay dividends far greater than the continued focus of the Congress in dismantling America’s health care system; and it would be infintely less expensive.