The problems at the Transportation Security Administration are legion: the molestation of air travelers, the failure to detect mock explosives or banned weapons 67 out of 70 times in a covert test of security procedures last year, the mishandling of classified or sensitive information, the extremely long lines at security checkpoints, the silly rules about removing our shoes and which toiletries cannot be brought aboard a plane that cow us into submission but do not make us any safer, the theft of passengers' belongings and the general waste of taxpayers' money.
But the troubled agency also has serious personnel issues, which several whistleblowers brought to light at a recent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. The hearing was called in response to charges of unqualified and vindictive senior managers, wasteful projects, improper bonuses for senior managers, sexual harassment of female employees and retaliation against employees who reported security lapses or misconduct by supervisors. This retaliation included involuntary reassignments to other airports, demotions, bogus misconduct investigations of the whistleblowers and terminations.
"TSA employees are less likely to report operational security or threat-relevant issues out of fear of retaliation from supervisors who fear further retaliation from their chain of command," testified Mark Livingston, a program manager in the TSA's Office of the Chief Risk Officer, who was demoted after reporting incidents of employee hazing and sexual harassment. "No one who reports issues is safe at TSA."
The whistleblowers' testimony provides yet another reason to abolish the TSA and make airlines responsible for their own security. "Competition among the airlines would help set the proper balance between safety and efficiency, based on passenger preference and demand," writes Benjamin Powell, economics professor and director of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, in a recent column for the New York Post. "The same competitive process would also weed out unnecessary procedures that add little to safety while increasing delays."
Unlike the monopolistic TSA, if a private security company is wasteful, ineffective or tolerates widespread abuse of its employees, it can always be fired and replaced with a more competent competitor. Besides, based on what we have seen in the TSA the past 15 years, private companies could hardly do any worse.
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