End the TSA

“You can’t professionalize unless you federalize” said Senator Tom Daschle after the 9/11 attacks regarding the apparent need for the federal government to assume the responsibility for all airport security. It sounded somewhat plausible at the time. After all, clearly the private system must have failed by allowing the hijackers through? Actually, no. The knives used were not in any way restricted under the government rules in place at the time. Three of the hijackers were permitted entry to the US by the federal government even though they had expired visas. Yet these failures in both governmental policy and procedure were simply ignored as those in power assured themselves that NOW we would learn from our mistakes. Until the shoe bomber. Ok, now we’ve really learned – check everyone’s shoes too. Until the underwear bomber. Ok, ok, now we’ve really got it this time, we swear – check for liquids above some arbitrary number we pulled out of thin air. Some might argue that despite its flaws the TSA must be effective, as we’ve had no more hijackings since 9/11. True, but under the prior private system there had not been a single hijacking incident on a commercial passenger flight originating from a US airport since 1983 (and that was merely a diversion, no lives were lost). For some perspective consider that in the 1970’s we had 13 hijacking in US airspace. Thirteen! And yet no one saw the need to federalize then. However after nearly two highjack-free decades it was decided that the only way to prevent another 9/11 style attack is to put in charge of security the same people that can’t even manage to efficiently run the post office or Amtrak: the US federal government. The TSA has increased staff over 400% since 2001 (costing taxpayers $56 billion) while flights have only increased 12% – and yet security related delays are commonplace. That is classic text-book government inefficiency at work.

The real problem with the TSA, however, is not the bloated inefficiency or free mammography’s but rather their complete lack of accountability to the airlines or the passenger. When a terrorist does eventually manage to navigate the well-publicized security maze, who will be held accountable? No one. The government is immune from any sort of prosecutorial culpability. Rather than being the catalyst to ending the TSA, such a failure will only be the rallying cry for even more money and manpower. Funny, failure in the private sphere results in bankruptcy, but in the government sphere it only enhances the failing entity. In a private system there is accountability. Airlines have a self-interest in not seeing their planes destroyed and their customers killed – it’s kind of bad for business. They have insurance for such events. Their insurer has a self-interest in not paying claims, therefore it requires the airline to screen passengers. The airline in turn hires an outside firm to handle screening. That outside company would bear liability for their failures therefore they would have insurance. Both insurers would closely monitor and regulate the screening company to ensure they did an effective job because those insurers would not want to pay out claims.

In a private system of interlocking companies and insurers the common goal of not losing money is accomplished most effectively by those who in turn are most effective at preventing property damage and loss of life. Those ineffective at it are quickly driven out of business (assuming no government bailouts). It is accountability, not government, which fosters professionalism.