George Washington, our first and in the view of many, our best president, once said, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” His prescient observation, delivered more than two centuries ago, aptly describes our present-day Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
For the last several months the TSA has been subjecting travelers to ever-increasing indignities, including naked body scanners and aggressive, police-type pat-downs, without any real regard or concern for the Fourth Amendment or our fundamental right to privacy. At the same time, the agency ignores long-standing requests by members of Congress – including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee – to determine whether full-body scanners expose passengers to potentially harmful doses of radiation.
Predictably, TSA scoffs at such suggestions; declaring there have been no instances of unhealthy exposure. In other words, “no one’s been proved to have contracted cancer as a direct result of passing through the scanning booths, so stop objecting.”
However, as noted in a USA Today article earlier this month a 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found the TSA had “failed in the past to detect when some baggage X-ray machines were emitting excessive levels of radiation or had safety features that were missing or disabled.” While the TSA claims it has made necessary improvements to ensure the safety of passengers and their baggage, an investigation by AOL News found it failed to provide any proof whatsoever that the machines were “working properly.”
TSA has also put the brakes on a program that would allow certified private security firms to perform passenger and baggage screening at airports. TSA head John Pistole apparently sees no advantage in allowing airports to participate in this “opt-out program,” despite evidence it had been working successfully in 16 airports.
TSA has thus made clear to airports, airlines, and passengers concerned about its tactics, that they are going to follow the government’s mandates, whether they like it or not.
Robert Poole, director of Transportation Policy at the Reason Foundation, has noted this move is not based on effectiveness of non-government screeners. He points to a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which found, the “[p]erformance results of the certified security firms were ‘equal to or better than those delivered’ by the TSA screeners.”
Poole also discovered that while the TSA cooks its books in a way that implies using private security firms is more expensive, they do not take into account factors such as workers’ compensation, insurance and retirement costs. It is entirely likely that private firms will not only deliver more efficient service, but could do it cheaper than TSA.
In another slap to the faces of air travelers, it was announced recently that TSA’s 40,000 workers have been given the green light to hold a vote on whether or not to unionize. Pistole argues that allowing these workers to unionize will boost morale and enhance productivity. In truth, federal workers’ unions pose a threat to the taxpayers, as they very well could use these new bargaining rights to procure more generous salaries and benefits, under threat of slow-down and other disruptive tactics. Greater job security and bargaining power for TSA employees hardly is likely to result in improved customer service.
Adding another layer of bureaucracy in the mix could affect security as well. National Review columnist Robert VerBruggen notes that collective bargaining could lead to schedules based on seniority, possibly giving the less-desired shifts to the most inexperienced workers. VerBruggen quotes a Republican aide, who argues that “Al-Qaeda might notice this: ‘Hey, the midnight-to-six shift doesn’t seem to have the quickest guys on the line. Let’s run a guy through with contraband and see if they catch him.’”
The TSA is a nightmare that simply will not go away. While the president jokes about pat-downs, the bureaucracy in the Department of Homeland Security continues growing, potentially putting both the security of passengers and taxpayers at risk, simply to pander to another special interest group.
by- Bob Barr, The Barr Code