They’ve been accused of rampant thievery, spending billions of dollars like drunken sailors, groping children and little old ladies, and making everyone take off their shoes.
But the real job of the tens of thousands of screeners at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is to protect Americans from a terrorist attack.
Yet a decade after the TSA was created following the September 11 attacks, the author of the legislation that established the massive agency grades its performance at “D-.”
“The whole program has been hijacked by bureaucrats,” said Rep. John Mica (R. -Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
“It mushroomed into an army,” Mica said. “It’s gone from a couple-billion-dollar enterprise to close to $9 billion.”
As for keeping the American public safe, Mica says, “They’ve failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years.”
“Everything they have done has been reactive. They take shoes off because of [shoe-bomber] Richard Reid, passengers are patted down because of the diaper bomber, and you can’t pack liquids because the British uncovered a plot using liquids,” Mica said.
“It’s an agency that is always one step out of step,” Mica said.
It cost $1 billion just to train workers, which now number more than 62,000, and “they actually trained more workers than they have on the job,” Mica said.
“The whole thing is a complete fiasco,” Mica said.
In a wide-ranging interview with HUMAN EVENTS just days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Mica said screeners should be privatized and the agency dismantled.
Instead, the agency should number no more than 5,000, and carry out his original intent, which was to monitor terrorist threats and collect intelligence.
The fledgling agency was quickly engulfed in its first scandal in 2002 as it rushed to hire 30,000 screeners, and the $104 million awarded to the company to contract workers quickly escalated to more than $740 million.
Federal investigators tracked those cost overruns to recruiting sessions held at swank hotels and resorts in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, Florida and the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo.
Charges in the hundreds of thousands of dollars were made for cash withdrawals, valet parking and beverages, plus a $5.4 million salary for one executive for nine months of work.
Other over-the-top expenditures included nearly $2,000 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee, $8,000 for elevator operators at a Manhattan hotel, and $1,500 to rent more than a dozen extension cords for the Colorado recruiting fair.
The agency inadvertently caused security gaps by failing for years to keep track of lost uniforms and passes that lead to restricted areas of airports.
Screeners have also been accused of committing crimes, from smuggling drugs to stealing valuables from passengers’ luggage. In 2004, several screeners were arrested and charged with stealing jewelry, computers and cameras, cash, credit cards and other valuables. One of their more notable victims was actress Shirley McClain, who was robbed of jewelry and crystals.
One of the screeners confessed that he was trying to steal enough to sell the items and buy a big-screen television.
In 2006, screeners at Los Angeles and Chicago O’Hare airports failed to find more than 60% of fake explosives during checkpoint security tests.
The sometimes rudder-less agency has gone through five administrators in the past decade, and it took longer than a year for President Obama to put his one man in place. Mica’s bill also blocked collective bargaining rights for screeners, but the Obama administration managed to reverse that provision.
Asked whether the agency should be privatized, Mica answered with a qualified yes.
“They need to get out of the screening business and back into security. Most of the screening they do should be abandoned,” Mica said. “I just don’t have a lot of faith at this point,” Mica said.
Allowing airports to privatize screening was a key element of Mica’s legislation and a report released by the committee in June determined that privatizing those efforts would result in a 40% savings for taxpayers.
“We have thousands of workers trying to do their job. My concern is the bureaucracy we built,” Mica said.
“We are one of the only countries still using this model of security,” Mica said, “other than Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and I think, Libya.”