The TSA is an easy target. Most of what passes for airport security is really security theater, designed either to make us feel safe or to appear that the government is doing something. All of this is reinforced by manufacturers selling expensive equipment.
So it’s easy to point to stories like the screener arrested for stealing from a passenger who had a conviction for theft before even being hired by the TSA. Foreseeable, much?
(Not the first questionable pre-employment screening, who can forget the Catholic priest dismissed over child sex abuse who became a TSA
Which is why each of these stories, taken together, sure looks like a pattern rather than a one off (a few bad apples who in no way undermine the hard work that thousands of men and women at the TSA do to keep us safe, day in and day out).
And yet — in a true measure of fairness — it bears pointing out that the TSA really does appear to be at least trying to make the right decisions for passengers and for security.
- There are limited resources and not every negligible (or non-existent) threat can be defended against — focusing on non-threats takes resources away from defending against real threats. So the TSA tried to amend the prohibited items list so they wouldn’t be required to search for items that don’t really pose existential security threats. They were thwarted by Congress, grandstanding over the threats of swiss army knives. Here the TSA was actually trying to deploy its resources to maximize security.
- PreCheck, mostly available to elite frequent flyers, makes the security experience much more painless. Shoes stay on, laptop stays in bag, liquids stay in bag (though you’re still limited to a Freedom Baggie’s worth). All this in exchange for providing data to the government prior to travel. At first I was regularly, ‘randomly’ denied use of PreCheck which made it tough to extract time ssavings from. But since I signed up for Global Entry I started getting to use PreCheck consistently.
- TSA plans to let people register for PreCheck directly, rather than just getting it through an airline or through Global Entry or Nexus. The cost is $85 (Nexus is $50 and Global Entry $100, both of which offer PreCheck and other benefits) and for now will be limited to signing up at Washington Dulles and Indianapolis. But they’re driving forward on expanding the program, which is key.
- TSA is considering implementing randomized security which is eliminates profiling and is much harder to game.
The TSA has never caught a terrorist. They’ve wasted billions upon billions of dollars inconveniencing passengers and serving as a drag on the economy (deadweight loss of waits, wasted time at the airport having to arrive earlier, missed flights). But they do seem to be trying, even if ‘we’ won’t always let them do a better job than they’re currently doing.