The Government Shutdown Exposes Another Reason to Abolish the TSA
The Transportation Security Administration, a federal agency, is facing a no-show problem with employees, as paychecks are put on hold during the partial government shutdown. This is reportedly leading to longer lines and security problems at airports nationwide.According to CNN ,
TSA spokespeople, meanwhile, insist everything is completely normal although absenteeism has "increased by 200% to 300%," according to Marketwatch.
Not everyone was as sanguine about the situation as government officials. One frequent traveler complained “The lines were exceptionally longer than normal, especially for a peak departure time frame of 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.”
Given that the feds admit more employees are skipping work, it's hard to believe that everything's humming along normally — unless workers are lowering security standards to get more people through the line quickly.
But, that, of course, is something the feds insist they would never, ever do.
In any case, the whole affair reminds us of just one of the many pitfalls that come with federalizing airport security and making it all part of one giant, nationwide federal bureaucracy.
TSA screeners are federal employees, and their salaries are paid out of a federal budget — of now more than 7 billion dollars. In fiscal year 2018 , more than four billion of the TSA's 7.5 billion budget came from government appropriations, with the rest coming from fees on passengers and the industry. Since 2017, the Trump Administration has proposed to increasing fees " to cover 75% rather than 40% of the Transportation Security Administration’s costs."1
But even if the Trump Administration were to get its wish, the TSA would still remain a federal agency with federal employees, and a substantial of its budget would still come from federal appropriations.
In other words, the next time there's a government shutdown, we'd be looking, yet again, at a situation in which the entire nationwide system of airports would be affected because a tiny number of politicians in DC couldn't agree on a nationwide budget.
It doesn't have to be this way. Nor were things this way prior to the federalization of airport security in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Thanks to the George W. Bush Administration, airport security was federalized only two months after 9/11, with Bush proudly declaring at the time: "For the first time, airport security will become a direct, federal responsibility."There were federal regulations in place dictating how security was conducted, of course, but the employees and the funding were largely decentralized in how they were distributed and used.
As a result, a federal shutdown under a system like this does not mean that the employees won't get paid or that "non-essential" personnel are simply sent home.
The TSA Doesn't Keep Us Safe
In response, supporters of the status quo are likely to respond that the TSA "keeps us safe" and only a federalized version of airport security can work.
Unfortunately, for them, there is no evidence to support this position.
First of all, that there has been no serious and successful terrorist hijacking since 9/11 does not prove the effectiveness of the TSA. After all, the creation of the TSA is just one change since 9/11.
Indeed, 9/11-style hijackings were obsolete by the afternoon of September 11, 2001. Their success rested largely on the fact that the airline industry and FAA regulators adhered to a policy of compliance when it came to hijackers. As a report from Stratfor notes:
A compliance policy will never be used again:
In other words, a major reason that there haven't been any 9/11-type hijackings since 9/11 is that terrorists know people will react in a completely different way to a potential hijacking.
In the case of Flight 93, the hijackers only got as far as they did because the crew and passengers initiallycomplied. Once the truth was learned, the situation changed dramatically. Now that 9/11 is common knowledge, not even initial compliance could be expected from terrorists.
Other factors include the placement of air marshals on some planes, and better security for cockpits.
The maintenance of an an enormous corps of federally employed TSA employees has nothing to do with any of these factors.
And then there is the research which shows that the TSA has a 95-percent failure rate in detecting efforts by terrorists to place weapons on commercial flights. Dylan Matthews wrote at Vox in 2016:
Defenders of the TSA — much like defenders of the CIA and other "security" organizations — claim that the TSA surely succeeds in stopping terrorists quite often. Those successes, however, are secret and we can't know about them.
This sort of faith-based trust in government might be convincing for some, but it ought to strike most people capable of critical thinking as nonsensical.
The fact remains — if we exclude the hypothetical "secret files of amazing successes" maintained by government agencies — there is no empirical evidence that the TSA prevents terrorism, and even in theory, we can easily point to other factors that are much more important in the prevention of another 9/11.
On the other hand, the federalization of airport security does create a situation in which national politics can easily create a system-wide failure in airport security that would not be possible in a system without the centralization of the TSA system.
Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Send him your article submissions for Mises Wire and The Austrian, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre. Contact Ryan McMakenTwitter
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