Orders agency to reduce patdowns, use private security screeners, and address scanner health concerns

Steve Watson

A new House Report has slammed the Transportation Security Administration for “failing to meet taxpayers’ expectations.”

The report, prepared by the House Committee on Homeland Security, says that the TSA must become a “leaner, smarter organization,” and concedes that the agency’s insensitivity and obsession with defending unpopular airport screening procedures is impeding security.

The report characterizes the TSA as a bloated bureaucracy that is bogged down in promoting policies that do not match current threat levels.

“The agency has gone down a troubling path of overspending, limiting private-sector engagement, and failing to sufficiently protect passenger privacy,” said transportation security subcommittee leader Mike Rogers at yesterday’s hearing.

“Eleven years after 9/11, the American people expect to see tangible progress in transportation security, with effective operations that respect both their privacy and their wallets,” the committee report notes. “The private sector is best suited to this challenge, not the federal government.”

The report also noted that the TSA has failed to make it clear why it has switched to a policy of invasive ‘enhanced’ patdowns, or what specific threat the procedure addresses.

“Pat-downs have hit a nerve with the general public, and TSA has failed to adequately explain why it continues to use this procedure two years after its initial rollout,” the committee said.

Recommending a reduction in patdowns, the report also slammed the TSA for taking a whole year to exclude children from the enhanced procedure after it was introduced in October 2010.

Turning to radiation firing body scanners, the committee recommends that the TSA sponsor “an independent analysis” of the health risks of body scanners and install privacy filters on all devices.

The Report cites the decision in EPIC v. DHS, pointing out that the TSA has failed to abide by the ruling of a federal appeals court to “act promptly” to receive public comments on the deployment of the scanners.

The report also questioned why the TSA has grown exponentially in size when the amount of travelers has decreased.

“A private-sector entity in the face of a shrinking customer base usually must downsize,” the committee said. “TSA, by contrast, has continually grown its ranks despite fewer travelers.”

Geoff Freeman, chief operating officer of the U.S. Travel Association, a Washington-based trade group for tourism agencies and providers, told the committee that the TSA’s budget has increased 68 percent from 2004 to 2011, while the number of passengers has not significantly changed.

“The real threat of terrorism, the economic consequences of inefficient screening, and increase in screening costs, add up to create one of the biggest problems facing the travel industry today,” Freeman said, adding that “a 2010 survey found that travelers would take two to three more flights per year, if the hassles in security screening were reduced.”

“Here is the bottom line: It is time to reform TSA,” Rep. Rogers concluded. “In fact, it’s been a long time coming.”