BY DIANE DIMOND
A recent Gallup poll has just concluded that 54 percent of Americans think the Transportation Security Administration is doing an “excellent” or “good” job at our airports.
I don’t. I think the TSA is engaged in a nationwide effort to cavalierly and routinely strip travelers of their dignity. I think in some instances the system is decidedly un-American.
“Remove your shoes! Take off your jackets! Make sure your computers are out and in a separate bin,” they shout out in a dreary monotone indicating their own boredom with the security system.
Empty your pockets. Take off your belt. Maybe it’s your necklace that’s making the infernal machine belch out its warning. Go back, and come through the contraption again. React with a heavy sigh or sagging shoulders, and you’re directed to a separate area to wait for the dreaded personal wanding session. At this point in the process, does the TSA really think a bona fide terrorist would wait patiently for the personal search?
This country was founded on the idea that there would be no such invasions of privacy.
“Is this your bag, sir?” a stern looking young woman asked my husband last week as we departed for a cross-country vacation. My husband is a voiceover artist and travels with his computer and specialized microphone called a “Snowball” so he can take care of clients while on the road. Maybe the presence of this bulbous, white piece of hardware with its tripod stand reminded the TSA agent of the now-banned snow globes that are not allowed on airplanes. (What is that all about, anyway?) Long story short, we very nearly missed our plane for all the discussion and rescreening.
Yes, I applaud the fact that no more shoe or underwear bombers have gotten through the system. I completely understand the need for airport security. But does the TSA have to treat all of us like we’re new arrivals at a prison camp?
I guess I have two major problems with the system. First, the lines are too long, and I’m perplexed because there almost always seems to be extra agents standing around not opening up the closed lanes. Second is the demeanor of the TSA agents. There are few smiles, never any meaningful eye contact, never an attempt to make the traveler feel like anything other than a criminal. In any other business, this kind of employee attitude would result in someone being fired for fear the customers would go elsewhere.
But we are captive to the airport monopoly. There is no other way to travel long distances quickly unless you’re Donald Trump and you have your own private jet.
I’m hardly alone in my displeasure with this nearly 11-year-old organization that is old enough to be better at what it does. Sen. Rand Paul often criticizes the TSA. At a recent speech in South Florida, he mimicked the legs apart and hands-on-head stance travelers must assume for certain airport machines and exclaimed, “Is this the pose of a free man?”
My answer? No, it is not.
The House Subcommittee on Transportation Security released a report not long ago that called TSA operations “in many cases costly, counterintuitive and poorly executed.”
Here’s a stunning example: The TSA’s annual payroll, compensation and benefits are more than $3 billion for about 62,000 employees. Roughly 47,000 of them are the screeners you see at the airport. But, according to the subcommittee (are you sitting down?), “there does not appear to be a correlation between the TSA’s staffing model and the number of travelers that need to be screened.” In fact, the report said, there has been a “net decrease in the number of people traveling” in the United States. In other words, all those extra agents I’ve seen standing around simply aren’t needed.
Here’s another quick example: In 2006, the TSA spent nearly $30 million to buy more than 200 so-called “puffer machines” that are supposed to detect explosive particles on carry-on bags. Only after the mega-purchase did they realize the machines don’t work in humid airport environments. Yes, I would call that a costly and poorly executed program.
So, who’s in charge of this arm of government, and why can’t they make the TSA more consumer friendly and budget conscious? Well, that would be the United States Congress, but so far current TSA Administrator John Pistole doesn’t appear inclined to listen to either Congress or the courts.
According to Joe Brancatelli, a travel writer with the Business Journal’s Digital Network who has been closely following the TSA saga and especially its failure to comply with a federal court’s order to review the policy on using full-body scanners, “TSA Administrator John Pistole repeatedly ignores congressional mandates and the law, as well as those pesky federal court orders.”
The TSA also dragged its feet on approving airports’ requests to join the “Screening Partnership Program,” which allows airports to opt out of using federal agents in favor of private contractors. Only after certain congressmen got angry did the TSA begin to ramp up its approvals. Now, three major airports — San Francisco, Orlando and Sacramento — and 14 smaller ones have made the change.
Well, I can’t wait for the idea to spread nationwide. I’ve always been of the mind that private business can do things more cost effectively and efficiently than a government bureaucracy that gets more bloated every year.
Now, I just hope those private contractors teach their screeners to be more polite to the customers.
Rockland resident Diane Dimond is a syndicated columnist, author, regular guest on TV news programs, and correspondent for Newsweek/Daily Beast. Visit her at www.DianeDimond.net or reach her via email Diane@DianeDimond.net.