Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) is the ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Here is his op-ed regarding the bureaucratic inefficiencies in the TSA. This was initially published in Politico.
The federal agency charged with ensuring the security of the nation’s transportation systems is in disarray and bogged down in bureaucracy.
The Transportation Security Administration, created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was intended to be a lean agency with flexibility to respond quickly to threats to various modes of transportation.
Instead, it has bloated from a modestly sized, pre-Sept. 11 force of 16,500 private airport screeners into a massive, inefficient bureaucracy of more than 60,000.
Though most TSA airport screeners are hard-working and loyal employees, the agency is top-heavy in administrative staff with more than 7,000 supervisors in the field. In June, in Washington alone, the number of TSA headquarters bureaucrats ballooned to 3,526, with the average salary topping $106,000.
In a large federal bureaucracy, it is difficult enough to accomplish objectives when leadership and administration are well defined. But it is nearly impossible if the command structure is flawed and fractured.
Under the Obama administration, TSA has been operating without an administrator for a year and a half. After the president’s first two choices failed to meet expectations, a new administrator, John Pistole, was finally approved on Friday. Unfortunately, it will be the fifth administrator in eight years.
Another problem is that more than 200 TSA staffers earn more than the agency’s top position. This critical position requires more stability, and the TSA must be able to attract the most qualified individuals to lead it.
This huge, rudderless agency has lacked leadership for too long and is in need of re-evaluation and reorganization.
TSA serves as the operator, administrator and regulator for the nation’s transportation security. But in fact, the TSA bureaucracy does all it can to thwart any conversion to a system with more private-sector operations and strong federal oversight and standards. This agency cannot, and should not, do it all.
Recent reports released by the Government Accountability Office highlight the latest examples of failures at TSA.
In May 2010, GAO concluded that the security agency bungled the development and deployment of a behavior detection program for the nation’s airports. Other countries successfully use such systems as an important layer in aviation security.
However, the model and techniques for TSA’s behavior detection program, known as Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, were never scientifically validated or demonstrated to be effective in airport environments. The report shows that TSA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on an insufficiently tested program.
Worst of all, the program has failed to identify a single known terrorist, although GAO found that at least 17 known terrorists including the would-be Times Square bomber have traveled through SPOT airports on 23 different occasions.
Earlier airport screening penetration tests have repeatedly demonstrated the TSA’s failure to detect threats to our aviation system. Unfortunately, penetration testing continues to show that even with new screening technology, and the SPOT program, the aviation screening system is not working.
GAO’s latest report, released in June, raises additional concerns about TSA’s ability to perform its critical security mission for all modes of transportation.
GAO found that the agency has not fully implemented a risk management framework to make sound decisions about the allocation of security resources across all means of transportation. In fact, TSA discontinued an effort to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment for the transportation sector because of difficulties in estimating the likelihood of terrorist threats.
Incomplete, mediocre risk assessments, inadequate work force planning and training, poor coordination with stakeholders, and ineffective assessments of security programs and technologies are hallmarks of TSA’s performance, not just in the aviation sector but in the other modes as well.
Historically, transit systems also have been vulnerable to terrorist attacks because rail and bus systems are open to the public, with significantly less passenger screening than aviation.
Transit facilities are busy, densely packed spaces in the middle of urban areas. Worldwide, there have been more than 1,600 attacks of terrorism on buses and rail systems since 1970.
In the United States in 2009, more than 10.2 billion trips were taken on transit trains and buses. So far, the nation has not experienced a major transit attack since Sept. 11, but the March 2010 Moscow subway bombings and earlier train attacks in London and Mumbai show that we must be prepared.
Given TSA’s troubled history and multiple failures in aviation security, I remain concerned that we are not as prepared as we should be to assess, prevent and respond to terrorist threats to our nation’s other transportation systems.
While we are certainly safer today than we were before Sept. 11, after so many years TSA should be far better at detecting threats to transportation.
It is essential that we improve the performance of this out-of-control bureaucracy and strengthen the nation’s transportation security. I look forward to working with the next TSA administrator to do so.