Wednesday, November 2, 2011

10 Years On, TSA Embodies Everything Wrong With Government Today

"It's my birthday! Where are all the children?
Come to me, little children!" Image Source: Wonkette.

Happy Birthday, TSA! (Not really.)

Ten years ago this month, in response to some crazy people smashing some planes into some towers on 9/11/2001, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ensure that something similar would never happen again - and flying has sucked terribly ever since, though it's gotten far worse in the past couple of years.

I'm writing this blog post to mark the 10th anniversary of one of the absolute worst agencies in the federal government, but my post was inspired by a terrible run-in I had with the TSA just a couple of weekends ago, when I was trying to fly home to DC from Boston.

My own personal TSA-nightmare story - ever since the TSA installed the full body scanners that irradiate you in order to look at you naked (yes, those scanners are really just to make full-body strip searches more convenient for you, the traveling public), I have always opted for a pat-down in lieu of the scanners, if I have to make a choice, since I'd rather not run the risk of having my DNA rearranged any more than it already is by our modern world.

Unfortunately, on this particular day at Logan in Boston, the scanners were in use, and I, as usual, was directed towards the scanner rather than the metal detector. (I'm not sure why, but if the metal detector and scanner are both in use, I am ALWAYS directed towards the scanner, and then have to opt for a pat-down. I think it's the goatee - everyone knows that all terrorists have goatees, right?) So, as usual, I told them I "opt out." Normally when I've done this, it takes anywhere from 5-90 seconds for the TSA to find someone to come give me the old groping, so I can get on the plane and continue on my merry way.

Not this time. I was directed to stand to the side by some poor schmuck who's entire job consisted of pointing people towards the metal detector or scanner, entirely according to his own whim, it appeared. Meanwhile, my luggage (including my tablet computer, removed from my bag, as required) continued on through the x-ray, and then out-of-sight. I changed my standing location to a position where I could watch my luggage to make sure no one walked off with my computer. I was directed by said schmuck to go back to where he'd told me to go in the first place.

I then proceeded to wait for MORE THAN 30 MINUTES just for them to find someone to feel me up, all the while unable to see my luggage, wondering if someone had wandered off with my tablet computer. After a while, I took to pacing back and forth in front of the entrances to both the metal detector and the scanner (the place I was supposed to stand was right in front of the scanner anyway), so I was causing a moderate line pileup, as people were wondering what the hell this guy was doing who refused to go through the security line. Well, I was confused as well, but I continued to wait, and the TSA continued to do absolutely nothing.

After more than 30 minutes (I'm not sure exactly how long, since my phone was also in my bag), a TSA agent finally came to take me away and molest me. I asked him what the hell the problem was, and he shrugged it off and said they were "short staffed." Bullsh*t. That schmuck, for example, could have been doing something, anything, useful.

After I was finally through, I tried to call the TSA Office of Strategic Communications and the TSA Office of Civil Rights to complain about the treatment I'd just received, but since it was a Sunday, of course, no one was there to take my call.

I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, this was just a small hiccup, and that many other people have received far worse treatment from the TSA than I:
  1. A disabled four-year-old required to walk through without his braces;
  2. An elderly business traveler who described the pat-down as "like being raped";
  3. A pregnant diabetic whose insulin was confiscated by the TSA;
  4. An eight-month-old baby subjected to a full pat-down;
  5. A 95-year-old wheelchair-bound woman with late-stage cancer forced to remove her adult diaper;
  6. And lots of other people - thousands, unfortunately.
The TSA - protecting America, one boobie at a time.

It comes down to this: the TSA is perhaps the most glaring example of a bloated, unaccountable government bureaucracy that does almost nothing useful except spend huge sums of money to enrich the few government defense contractors that supply its scanning machines - contractors who might have landed the contracts because of dirty insider dealing. It should be completely scrapped and redesigned from the ground up. Here's why:
  1. The TSA ignored (and continues to ignore) the cancer risks associated with their scanning machines.
  2. What part of the security process you're subjected to isn't random; it's at the whim of the TSA agents facing you at the airport.
  3. If something goes wrong (i.e. you have to wait more than 30 minutes to be screened, the TSA agents break open your urostomy bag, or one of a billion other things), there's no way to hold the TSA accountable, either after the fact or, most importantly, right when the problem is occurring.
  4. The TSA's allocation of resources is woefully inefficient.
  5. Some TSA agents think sexual harassment is funny.
  6. The TSA likes to initiate utterly baseless investigations against its critics (I hope I don't earn an investigation by virtue of this post).
  7. There's no evidence that the TSA is effective, in the least, at stopping terrorist attacks.
  8. On a related note, absolutely no cost-benefit analysis is performed when evaluating whether to implement some new security procedure. To be fair, this isn't just a problem concerning the TSA - this is also a problem in the rest of the post-9/11 U.S. military-industrial complex.
  9. The TSA's mission is already beginning to creep outward, like some kind of evil, tentacled monster - the TSA is now trolling for terrorists on Tennessee highways by randomly pulling people over.
  10. The TSA isn't even that good at finding weapons people bring on planes - they seem to miss loaded handguns with some regularity.
  11. The TSA might also be a corrupt organization - after convincing the TSA to buy the full-body scanners, its former head left the TSA to take a cushy (and lucrative) lobbying job for one of the contractors supplying the scanners - a contractor that won a nice, no-bid contract from the government. I don't know if this was outright corruption, but it sure smells dirty.
  12. Even the guy who created the TSA thinks it's been an unmitigated disaster and should be dismantled and privatized.
As a government employee, I think that the government does a lot of things really well, and most of the government employees I know both personally and professionally are extremely talented, capable people, and they are struggling to do their best while working in various bureaucracies with various levels of soul-crushing-ness.

However, the TSA is so obviously and completely broken that it should simply be scrapped. I don't know whether the solution is a new government agency or to re-privatize airport security, but the current system as implemented by the TSA is beyond ridiculous - a system in which 100% of flyers, 99.999999999% of which are utterly innocent, are harassed, abused, and/or irradiated by an unaccountable government entity in the name of useless security theater. Furthermore, when thinking about how to spend government dollars, is it a better idea to spend an extra dollar on childhood education, research, or bridges, or on paying the TSA to troll Tennessee highways for non-existent threats?

End the TSA. If you work for the TSA, quit. Don't apply for TSA jobs. Don't fly, if you can avoid it. Enough is enough.

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