“This government agency is unpopular and unnecessary,” reads the first line of Glenn Reynolds’ December 2013 column for USA TODAY.
While most would agree with the first statement, I was at first very reluctant to arrive at a place of agreement for the second one. The Transportation Security Administration is unnecessary? Certainly in this post-9/11 age, the TSA has helped foil terrorist plots, right? Don’t tell me I go through those awkward body scanners that most likely reveal my non-terroristic package for nothing!
Is it possible, however, that the government agency that we have all come to know (a little too much) is wasting our time and doing nothing to really make our airways any safer?
For starters, the TSA could be responsible for the rising increase in airline ticket prices. You see, just like any other government agency, the TSA has budget issues. I know, big shock, right? But because of those budget shortfalls, the administration actually charges the airlines a fee for each passenger that they send through security. That fee, of course, is then handed down to you, the ticket purchaser. Just this year, thanks to the bi-partisan budget deal, that fee actually went up from about $5 to $11.20 roundtrip. The authors of that budget deal patted themselves on the back after they announced the rise in fees would raise the percentage of the TSA’s costs covered by security fees from 30% to 40%.
Further, who do you think really foots the bill for new scanning technology like those full-body scanners that we have all grown to love? Eventually the increase in the TSA’s budget has to be subsided somehow, and the agency typically finds a way to pass that cost increase on to the airline, which hands it down to you, the innocent traveler.
In a 2010 column for the New York Times, Nate Silver explained how increased security measures can affect our economy (and the travel industry) on a macro scale.
“More stringent security procedures, in essence, function as a tax upon air travel, and produce a corresponding deadweight loss. Teleconferences are often a poor substitute for person-to-person interaction, and when people are reluctant to travel, some business deals don’t get done that otherwise would have. Recreational travelers, meanwhile, may skip out on vacations that otherwise would have brought them pleasure and stress-relief (while improving revenues for tourism-dependent economies). The tenuous profits of the airline industry are also affected, of course. Revenue losses from the new bag-checking procedures may have measured in the billions, according to the Cornell study.”
He then goes on to talk about how the passengers who choose not to fly may choose ground travel instead, which can be deadly:
“Other passengers may substitute car travel for air travel. But this too has its consequences, since car travel is much more dangerous than air travel over all. According to the Cornell study, roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.”
By now, if I’ve done my job well, you hate the TSA because they kill people! Calm down, buddy. Silver also partially concedes that there is another theory that states increased security is a good thing, because it makes people feel more comfortable with air travel, thus causing more people to purchase those tickets. It’s really a mix up!
Let’s talk about the hard facts. Has the TSA actually been effective in stopping terrorist hijackings and bombings?
Out of the billions of dollars that the TSA has spent since its birth, they have arrested a whopping zero terrorists. This very fact was admitted in 2012 by John Halinski, who at the time was the TSA’s Assistant Administrator for Global Strategies. He is now their Deputy Administrator and still, no bad guy have been arrested in the security line. In fact, the only people who are caught are people like my father who forgot one time on a trip to Washington, D.C. that he had a small screwdriver in his bag. And, I must admit, they caught me one time with the full-body scanner, when I was trying to smuggle a piece of paper in my pocket – it was my boarding pass and I forgot to take it out of my jeans, which awarded me the pleasure of being felt up by an agent who didn’t even do it with a smile.
In my research, I also found a wonderful article by FreedomWorks contributor Julie Borowski stating the top 10 reasons why the TSA should be abolished. Among the most obvious reasons that any libertarian would know, such as how they invade our privacy and how they cost too much (i.e. they’re too big), she states that the TSA doesn’t make us any safer. Furthermore, she says that abolishing the TSA would make us even more safe! Say, what?
“The TSA is nothing more than Security Theater. It is a government monopoly that has no incentives to improve their screenings. The TSA has not caught a single terrorist since its inception. The now infamous ‘shoe bomber’ and ‘underwear bomber’ were not stopped by the TSA. These terrorists were instead stopped by airline passengers.”
In defense of her claim that we would be safer without the TSA, she writes “airline companies should be free to provide their own private security.” When a free market nerd like myself reads that, I automatically jump with joy inside because I know exactly where she is going with that. Just as she mentioned in her first point that I highlighted, the TSA has no incentive to improve the screening process because, that’s right, they have no competition. Make the airlines provide their own security screening, which of course they will, and you will suddenly have private security companies competing to the death to be the best, fastest, and the least creeptastic. What a beautiful world that would be!
Oh! And another reason we would be safer without the TSA is related to the fact that nobody gets fired in government anymore. Ask yourself this question: what currently happens if a bomber gets through security without a TSA agent catching them? Nothing. Nobody gets fired. Not the agents and certainly not any of the higher-ups. If we had private security companies take over, there would be incentive for them to be effective. Because if a security agent didn’t catch a terrorist with a bomb in his underwear, his ass is on the line… the unemployment line.
The truth is, it makes sense to abolish the TSA. And thanks to the agency’s terrible approval rating, such a measure may actually happen. In fact, notable lawmakers like Senator Rand Paul have actually supported bills to do just this. Months after he was detained at the airport in 2012, Senator Paul drafted legislation that would do exactly what I write about here – privatize airport security and put a dagger in the heart of the TSA.
Let’s make air travel fun, easy, and safe again, just like in the days of Mad Men. As for more leg room and short skirts for flight attendants, that will be the topic of my next piece. Until then, you and I will be forced, like cattle, to go through the checkpoints setup by an out of control government agency that is only out to make our lives more stressful.
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