ISN’T IT TIME FOR TSA TO SHUT-UP AND LISTEN?
By: Charles G. Slepian
Founder, Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center
503 804 3138
971 678 2977
Every spring, the TSA experiences an “unforeseen emergency” in their processing of airline passengers and the screening of passenger baggage. Their solution is always the same: Slow the process down to a crawl, raise the passenger anxiety level to just below the riot state, and then demand more money from congress to hire more screeners. TSA has been fumbling security at our airports for almost fifteen years and hiding behind their foreseeable mantra of we need more money for more screeners all of that time; never once have they improved their screening success record. Their score on their last FAA screening test indicated a consistent performance at a 95% failure rate when it comes to their only job, identification of explosives put into the screening system. Capturing penknives and the like hardly justifies an $8 billion dollar budget and is irrelevant to taking down airliners.
A performance record like TSA’s begs the question why we don’t reduce the number of screeners, quit screening for anything other than explosives in carry-on bags, employ neutron and gamma ray technology to screen those bags and place all checked baggage into the automated screening system before it enters the terminal. For Homeland Security officials to claim that our current system cannot be changed without compromising passenger safety and security is quite frankly embarrassing. It is true that we haven’t had a serious act of aviation terrorism since 9/11 but we haven’t heard how that was accomplished by a screening program that fails every test that measures its ability to interdict explosives.
President George W. Bush, having been faced with a horrific attack on the U.S. reacted to the need to establish a government run, military grade aviation security system and did so in a little more than 60 days to be ready for the busiest travel period of the year, Thanksgiving. In so doing we eliminated an ineffective, bare bones aviation screening system that had been put in place by the airlines at their own expense in favor of a law enforcement style screening program run by a newly created Homeland Security agency. Often haste makes waste, and the creation of the TSA is a perfect example of it. In the rush to establish a management for TSA, a number of contradictions arose, the top management of the agency was, and still is, dominated by recycled generals and admirals who proceeded to mismanage the role of handling millions of civilians that daily needed to conform to new standards to which they were, and to some degree still are, unaccustomed. How to process children and senior citizens with a wide variety of medical needs had not been carefully prepared for further complicating what would be allowed in passenger carry-on, and how to properly conduct searches of passengers with special needs. The lines and delays at screening stations made those of this past week appear minor and the same is true of delays in departures brought about by confusion over what could be carried aboard airliners, something that still remains unclear. Screening hardware, which hadn’t been adequately tested, was unable to handle the volume of checked baggage and kept suffering maintenance problems and false positive alerts, which in fact may have been better than the lack of alerts to the tests for explosives that is now the case. Many of the same issues still remain.
Disagreements over the eligibility requirements of screeners and the need for vetting them, together with similar issues for airport employees and contractors, brought about a system that could not live up to its claims of effectiveness and efficiency. How effective can an airport security system in which explosives, weapons, and unchecked workers have free reign truly be? Why do we still spend a fortune on screening equipment that doesn’t catch explosives penetrating it but identifies a peanut butter sandwich every time? How serious are we about screening when the most qualified amongst us: veterans; retired law enforcement officers with broad language capabilities; EMT’s and Paramedics, and trained firefighters are not sought to fill the ranks of the TSA force. Surely if we hired those truly needed to operate the one agency that is on the front line of protecting our economy from enemy attack it would be a much wiser investment than the annual tax we pay for more of the same with nothing to show for it.
Needless to say, that among those who need to do less talking and more listening are our government officials who rush to the fore, government checkbook in hand, demanding to know how the latest fiasco could have happened and then writing a check on the public treasury while assuring the public that they will fix the problem for us. Perhaps if those who claim they know how to solve our aviation security problem would just listen to our scientists and university scholars working on our technology problems, and to our experienced military and law enforcement personnel with actual experience in identifying threats and securing our nation develop meaningful defenses against domestic terrorism and other crimes, we might then have something to brag about. In the meantime, let us quietly listen for words of advice from those who really have something to offer.
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