End, don't mend, the Transportation Security Administration
Passenger pat-downs haven't dug up a single terrorist.
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The TSA has always been a political, not practical, response to 9/11. It hassles us at checkpoints not because of penetrating insights on security or some brilliant breakthrough, but because politicians handed it power. Specialists in security didn't invent the TSA; the Bush administration imposed it on us. So we might hope the incoming president would abolish this absurd agency.Skip to next paragraph
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Unfortunately, Barack Obama wants to improve the TSA rather than send it packing. His suggestions for that improvement? Passengers still aren't screened against a comprehensive terrorist watch list, his website proclaims. Such a list must be developed.
Why? The watch list has already kept Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts off planes: Will a comprehensive list bar Republican congressmen, too? That'll protect us about as well as unionizing screeners will – another change the campaigning Obama said he favors.
An administration serious about preserving passengers' lives rather than screeners' jobs would dismantle the TSA. Experts in the field, not the government, should design security. And it's senseless to fear that without the TSA airlines won't protect us. Businesses never willingly risk their inventory or customers; the aviation industry is no exception.
Eliminating the TSA allows airlines to protect their customers and multimillion-dollar jets with real security, tailored to each company's needs. AirTran, for instance, confronts different challenges from Air Jamaica, just as banks in midtown Manhattan deal with different dangers than do those in suburban Sioux City. In a world free of the TSA, an airline might arm its pilots or hire private security firms.
More likely, ideas and options we nonexperts can't imagine would render aviation's security as unobtrusive and effective as it is in other industries. There's no limit to human ingenuity and innovation – until the government stifles them with one-size-fits-all regulation.
Unfortunately, we can expect the airlines to fight as hard as the TSA for its survival: requiring security and establishing a bureaucracy to run it sticks taxpayers, rather than airlines, with the bill.
We've paid aviation's operating costs long enough. It's time to bring down the curtain on the TSA's security theater.
Becky Akers, a freelance writer and historian, is finishing a book about the TSA.