File this under "Worst Ideas Ever."
The new head of the Transportation Security Administration, Edmund "Kip" Hawley, recently asked his staff to propose changes to the way the agency screens 2 million passengers daily.
The staff's first set of recommendations, detailed in an Aug. 5 memo and reported Aug. 12 by the Washington Post
, includes a proposal to lift the ban on various carry-on items such as scissors, razor blades and knives less than five inches long. The proposal also would allow ice picks, throwing stars and bows and arrows on flights.
Hawley, rather than throwing the suggestion aside, and-or questioning the logic behind it, instead will allow further disussion of the proposal this month, the Post
If it bothers you that the TSA is spending your tax dollars to consider ways to make us less safe
, consider the reasons behind it.
reports that the "TSA is struggling with new cuts in the screener workforce imposed by Congress while its new leaders hope to improve the agency's poor reputation among air travelers by introducing more customer-friendly measures."
Let's look at that factoid:
1) Why did Congress cut the screener workforce? I don't know. Perhaps it was a misguided response to recent reports that the TSA has been guilty of rampant waste and fraud
. Hey, it's important for our government to crack down on such things as the $500,000 spent on art, silk plants and other decorations for a new operations center, but cutting employees whose sole charge is to protect airline passengers does nothing to reduce waste and fraud
. Certainly the government should realize that there's a difference between paying for bad employees
and cutting needed staff, right? Using that logic would be like dumping your car because of a flat tire.
How could President Bush have approved the TSA budget? What are his priorities as he tells Americans, over and over, that "we're safer" under his helm?
2) How is it "customer-friendly" to allow scissors, razor blades, small knives, ice picks, throwing stars and bows and arrows on flights? Is there a great need to cut things, shave, pick ice, practice martial arts or target practice on a moving flight? Would you allow these things into an elementary school? Would you allow them into a packed stadium? Of course not. It would make no sense -- those things serve no purpose in those settings. Equally, they serve no purpose on an airplane.
Not surprising, the Post
was able to find at least one security analyst to praise the agency's proposal, saying that security screeners spend too much time trying to find nail scissors and not enough time focused on today's biggest threat: a suicide bomber boarding an airplane.
K. Jack Riley, a homeland security expert at Rand Corp., said hardened cockpit doors, air marshals and stronger public vigilance will prevent another 9/11-style hijacking. "Frankly, the preeminent security challenge at this point is keeping explosives off the airplane," Riley said.
Maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but when did screening for sharp objects and screening for explosives become mutually exclusive searches?
We all complain about long lines, but I have to figure the majority of air passengers would rather wait five more minutes in line to know that the TSA has done its best to keep ice picks and other sharp objects off their flights.
Why isn't there money for airport screeners and high-tech machines? Maybe the government just has other priorities.
For example, President Bush just signed a $286 billion federal highway bill that included an estimated $23 billion of pork
-- for projects like upgrades to the National Packard Museum in Ohio. Similarly, the recently passed energy bill has been criticized for being laden with pork and corporate welfare
. (Maybe, after seeing all that pork, that's why President Bush can consider it an achievement to forecast "only" a $333 billion federal deficit for the current fiscal year. Hard to believe Bush ran in 2000 as a "fiscal conservative.")How can anyone ok spending for pork, and at the same time allow the TSA to face budget cuts for its screener workforce, and lack the necessary equipment to screen for explosives?
Hey, if the money can't be had for homeland security by cutting pork, wouldn't most Americans be willing to fork over $3 or $5 per ticket -- or whatever the nominal cost is -- to keep the dumped screeners aboard, pay for the additional equipment, and better ensure airline safety?
Aw hell, the TSA probably doesn't think that's being "customer friendly."
The TSA, no doubt because of its reduced screener force, is also looking for ways to reduce the number of people it has to screen.
The memo recommends no longer patting down certain categories of passengers, such as members of Congress, airline pilots, Cabinet members, state governors, federal judges, high-ranking military officers and people with top-secret security clearances.
While that may seem reasonable, other suggestions are more questionable. For example, the memo suggests screeners also would not have to pat down "those persons whose outermost garments closely conform to the natural contour of the body."
But let's remember that not every bomber straps explosives to their chest. For example, consider where convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid put his bombs. Couldn't a person wearing a thick sweater -- conforming to the natural contour of the body -- in theory have a similar-sized explosive and waltz onto an airplane?
It gets worse. The system currently flags passengers who book one-way tickets or modify travel plans at the last minute. The new TSA plan would give TSA managers assigned to each major airport the option to de-select such passengers?
What possible reason would there be for de-selecting such a passenger?
Right. They want to be "customer-friendly."
Douglas Laird, former head of security for Northwest Airlines, was one security expert who recognizes the stupidity of the various TSA proposals.
For example, Laird said exempting certain categories of passengers from security screening would be dangerous because trusted groups have occasionally abused the privilege
"In an effort to be customer friendly, they're forgetting that their primary requirement is to keep airplanes safe,"