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Summer travelers know that the Transportation Security Administrative troops, drill sergeants decked out in Jiffy Lube blue shirts, do a bang-up job of making air travel more miserable than it should be. As they take off their shoes and belts, travelers may also know that the TSA is a miserable failure at its appointed task. In recent tests at dozens of airports, a Department of Homeland Security team was able get weapons, mock bombs, and other items past TSA security. The failure rate was a full 95 percent, almost total, in other words. As the Los Angeles Times observed, DHS secretary Jeh Johnson, compounded the problem with a “dismissive response,” claiming that the numbers were “out of context,” and he refused to release the full report because the information was “classified.” That term generally means “embarrassing to the government.” And as the Times editorial noted, TSA lapses are nothing new.
Since 2004, DHS conducted eight covert tests on airport screening operations and all turned up “a number of security failures that persist.” Further, in recent months, “hundreds of TSA employee security badges have gone missing at airports in Atlanta and San Diego. No one knows what has happened to them.” Several years ago, a TSA man, formerly in the military, told David Horsey of the Los Angeles Times, “This is all a joke. I can think of a hundred ways to sneak a weapon through all of this.” Turns out he was right, but the failure rate of 95 percent prompted the government to fire nobody.
Jeh Johnson remained in place and simply transferred TSA boss Melvin Carraway to the DHS Office of State and Local Law Enforcement. TSA bureaucrat Mark Hatfield took over temporarily while President Obama nominated Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger to head the agency. Based on the record, the seafaring man will fare no better, but the TSA illustrates important dynamics.
With the federal government, failure is common and accountability has an existential problem. However redundant, wasteful or abusive, the policy remains: No Bureaucracy Left Behind. That’s why travelers remain unsafe, as the nation sinks deeper into fathomless debt.