Government report: 'TSA's main concern isn't safety, it's self-preservation'
As millions of Americans board planes to visit friends and family for Christmas and New Year’s, they will undergo security screenings by an agency whose conduct is constantly criticized by angry passengers treated poorly by its officers.
Despite the constant criticism, the Transportation Security Administration stopped a program that would give airports the option of having private employees conduct security screenings. These employees would have greater workplace flexibility and be held to higher standards, thereby improving customer service. TSA was given the power to decide which locations could participate, but between 2002 and 2011 it only allowed 16 out of 440 commercial US airports to hire these employees. TSA Administrator John S. Pistole terminated the program last year, returning full power of airport security to his agency by eliminating the competition.
TSA claims that this was done to reduce airport costs, but in 2011, these private screeners – which are paid for by the airport, not TSA – only cost three percent more than the agency’s own employees.
A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows the severity of TSA’s faults on the American public. More travelers are choosing to drive or take a train to their destination, in part to avoid the security mess that the TSA is in charge of. The agency has suffered continuous criticism, with passengers accusing employees of stealing their belongings, groping them inappropriately during security screenings, and detaining them without valid reason.
“Passengers who have negative encounters with the screening process generally associate their experiences with the specific airport,” the GAO report said.
But regardless of the complaints specific to the agency, TSA has refused to compare its employees to private contractors to compare the quality of the services.
“TSA has not conducted regular reviews comparing private and federal screener performance and does not have plans to do so,” the report states.
The GAO report also described TSA efforts to block distraught passengers from filing complaints. Angry passengers undergoing screenings at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington DC are never given forms they can turn in documenting their complaints. They are simply provided with small pieces of paper containing the TSA website and mailing address, the Washington Times reports.
Deborah McElroy, executive vice president of policy and external affairs at the Airports Council International-North America, a Washington-based trade group, told Bloomberg News that the decision to replace TSA employees with private ones should lie with the airport – giving airports alternatives if they have negative experiences with the agency.
“We strongly believe that airports should make the decision,” she said. “If the airports decide to do it, there shouldn’t be barriers.”
Even though private contractors cost an airport three percent more than TSA employees, TSA’s mistakes have cost the agency millions of dollars. Facing numerous lawsuits, it is often forced to compensate passengers maltreated by their employees, thereby procuring additional expenses.
Additionally, the TSA has wasted money by purchasing faulty equipment. The agency recently bought $29.6 million worth of ‘puffer’ machines meant to detect explosives, which ultimately failed to detect anything at all.
Nevertheless, US airports no longer have an alternative option to TSA screeners. The agency will continue to have full control over the security screenings of every passenger going through a US airport, subjecting about 15 million people to their procedures this holiday season.