Tomorrow, the House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing on “TSA’s Efforts to Fix Its Poor Customer Service Reputation and Become a Leaner, Smarter Agency.” In describing the hearing, chairman Mike Rogers (R–AL) wrote:
Through years of high profile mistakes and poor public communications, TSA [the Transportation Security Administration] has become one of the most disliked agencies in the Federal Government. Many Americans have a guttural response when they encounter TSA while traveling. Given the importance of securing our Nation’s airports and other transportation systems from terrorist attack, it is essential that TSA rebuild its trust and image with the American people.
Rogers is right, but the TSA must do more than regain the trust of the flying public. In order to protect against the continued threat of terrorism in the aviation sector, TSA needs to reassess its aviation security policy and invest in what actually works to prevent terrorism.
Late last year, a report by the House Joint Majority Staff found that “the status and mission of TSA have gradually eroded to make the agency a tangential and inert unit within [the Department of Homeland Security’s] massive structure.” This probably comes as little surprise. What was staggering, however, is that the report also found:
With more than 65,000 employees, TSA is larger than the Departments of Labor, Energy, Education, Housing and Urban Development, and State, combined. TSA is a top-heavy bureaucracy with 3,986 headquarters personnel and 9,656 administrative staff in the field.
That comes to a 400 percent increase in overall TSA staff in the same period when the growth in U.S. aviation passengers has increase by less than 12 percent. It’s an average of 30 TSA administrative personnel for each of the 457 airports where TSA operates.
TSA should get out of the business of providing airport security and shift toward setting aviation security policy and regulations. This would allow for screening responsibilities to be devolved back to the airports—under the supervision of a federal security director—and allow TSA to stop wasting time managing its bloated bureaucracy and truly focus on security.
At the same time, TSA should also focus on enhancing and expanding low-cost, effective security measures such as the Federal Flight Deck Officers program, which allows TSA to deputize commercial pilots as federal law enforcement officers to serve as the first line of deterrence and the last line of defense against aviation piracy and terrorism.
Bloated government is bad enough, but it’s even worse when an agency must spend time managing a massive bureaucracy at the expense of American security.