Archive for category Privacy

Those GAO Reports

From Holly Doodruff Lyons, those GAO reports I promised:

1.)    “Systematic Planning Needed to Optimize the Deployment of Checked Baggage Screening Systems”, (GAO-05-365, March 2005)

According to TSA’s analysis, in-line EDS would reduce by 78 percent the number of TSA baggage screeners and supervisors required to screen checked baggage at these nine airports, from 6,645 to 1,477 screeners and supervisors.” (Page 42).

2.)    Classified GAO Report (April 2005), GAO reviewed the TSA’s own covert screener testing data and concluded that TSA’s data indicated that passenger checkpoint screeners at airports participating in the PP5 Program performed better overall on the tests than checkpoint screeners at the totally Federalized airports.  GAO concluded that differences in these test results were statistically significant.

3.)    “Screener Training and Performance Measurement Strengthened, but More Work Remains”, (GAO-05-457, May 2005)

For the two-year period reviewed, overall failure rates for covert tests (passenger and checked baggage) conducted at airports using private-sector screeners were somewhat lower than failure rates for the same tests conducted at airports using federal screeners for the airports tested during this period.” (Page 34).

4.)    “Aviation Security: TSA’s Cost and Performance Study of Private-Sector Airport Screening”, (GAO-09-27R, January 2009)

The limitations in the design of TSA’s study comparing the cost and performance of SPP and non-SPP airports were due to several key factors related to the study’s purpose and data availability.  For example, TSA officials stated that they did not include some cost elements in the study because they wanted to determine the impact of the SPP on TSA’s budget, rather than to determine the impact to the federal government as a whole.  In addition, for its comparison of performance, TSA analyzed measures for which information was most complete, among other things.  Because of these limitations, we [GAO] believe that TSA should not use the study as sole support for major policy decisions regarding the SPP.”

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DIA and TSA – What We Can Do, and What We Can’t

I just got off the phone with Holly Woodruff Lyons, who’s a staffer with the US House Transportation Committee.  She was kind enough to spend about 15 minutes with me, discussing Rep. Mica’s letter, and the opt-out program, and was extremely helpful given that she didn’t know me from Adam.

It turns out that private contractors, while quite popular in the places where they are used, still have to obey TSA screening policies, and if TSA decides to put electronic strip-searchers at DIA, there’s no mechanism for DIA to resist.  TSA is responsible for security, not DIA.  This also means that the private contractors almost always are contracted to TSA, not to the local airport authority.  The airport applies for an opt-out, after which the Feds put out an RFP and go through the normal contracting processes.  There are some other models, where the private contractors work for the airports, but they still have to operates federal processes under federal supervision.

The innovations that Mica refers to are operational, not policy, but Mrs. Lyons did note that (not surprisingly) the private companies tend to be more responsive, more willing to open new lines, and more concerned about their public perception that the TSA.  For instance, the handling of heavy bags has led to a higher rate of injury for security workers, and many have subcontracted out baggage-handing to cut down on injuries.  In other instances, the turnover rate at private companies is far lower, further reducing operating costs.

When the TSA tried to run through a study comparing itself to its competition, and – surprise! – found that the competition was less efficient and more expensive, the GAO called them out on it, showing that the cost savings generally resulted from not counting federal pensions, and that sort of thing.  In fact, there’s every reason to believe that operationally, contractors do save money.  Mrs. Lyons has promised to pass along the relevant GAO reports and the studies that validate Rep. Mica’s statements.

We need to remember that the opt-out is a program that was written into the original TSA law, but that Rep. Mica is obviously a strong supporter of it.  Rep. Rogers, who currently heads the Transportation subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, and it challenging earmark baron Jerry “The Minority-Maker” Lewis (R-CA) for the chairmanship of the whole committee, is also a strong supporter.

Remember, Rep. Mica’s letter was sent before these procedures starting causing a public sensation, so he’s really not referring to them in his letter.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t use the opt-out to reduce the number of TSA employees, and thus its budget, and therefore its bureaucratic position.  Bureaucrats never like to be on the defensive, never like to be in the public eye, and their employees certainly don’t like being The Enemy.

Whether or not this is enough to get them to stop treating us as The Enemy remains to be seen.

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Can We Spare Denver Passengers TSA?

By now, pretty much everyone has heard about John Tyner, the Oceanside, CA man who reasserted his individual dignity by refusing to submit to either the option of groping or self-pornification in the service of what Reason‘s Matt Welch (and now, Rep. John Mica (R-FL) calls, “security theater.”  You know, the fellow that TSA has decided to make an example of for us all.

In addition to being large, impersonal, and top-heavy, what really worries critics is that the TSA has become dangerously ineffective. Its specialty is what those critics call “security theater” — that is, a show of what appear to be stringent security measures designed to make passengers feel more secure without providing real security. “That’s exactly what it is,” says Mica. “It’s a big Kabuki dance.”

It’s good to see that someone – one of the authors of the original TSA legislation, no less – is telling us that yes, indeed, all this stuff is to make us feel better, not actually to make us safer.  I’ll grant that there is something to the operational theory that ever-changing rules and oddly intrusive regulations keep the bad guys off-balance and force them to take risks that make failure and detection more likely.  Except that the underwear bombers and the ink toner bomber weren’t really stopped because the system worked, were they?

It’s not often I disagree with Dennis Prager outright, but this morning, he and guest Michael Fumento were seeking to defuse the panic over the scanners.  Now, Fumento has a creditable history of taking on irrational public fear – see last year’s swine flu plague that swept away civilization, for instance.  But in this case, they’re not taking into account that the TSA has dealt with us in bad faith over these scanners from the beginning.  We were assured, for instance, that pictures could not be stored or shared.  Which is why they’re all over the Net.

The fact is that these options are insulting, intrusive, humiliating, and demeaning, and the sort of thing that a free people should never have to put up with simply to get from point A to point B.  The argument from Big Sis that they’re absolutely necessary, that nothing else will do, that no other solution short of Amtrak or Greyhound is possible, is pretty rich coming from a Lilliputian government that routinely ties down its citizens and businesses with regulations, and then excuses the extra cost on the grounds that they can always find a work-around.

It’s time for Big Sis to find a work-around.  And not the current SPOT program.

In a May 2010 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mica noted that the GAO “discovered that since the program’s inception, at least 17 known terrorists … have flown on 24 different occasions, passing through security at eight SPOT airports.” One of those known terrorists was Faisal Shahzad, who made it past SPOT monitors onto a Dubai-bound plane at New York’s JFK International Airport not long after trying to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Federal agents nabbed him just before departure.

Now, Mica has written another letter to over 150 airport administrators reminding them that they can opt out of TSA, and hire private contractors for screening instead.  At one point, this seemed to be an attractive option for many airports.  In 2004, Mica tried to remind them of the option, but Peter DiFazio (D-Public Employees Unions) suspected a nefarious Bush plot to continue reducing the size of government.

Since the rules actually state that security screeners have the right to use their judgment in determining which screening methods to use, presumably passengers at private security wouldn’t feel it necessary bring a wad of one-dollar bills to get them through security.

In most places, citizens lack the means to force their local airports to do this.  The good news is that we do.  DIA is owned and operated by the City and County of Denver.  With Denver’s municipal elections coming up in May, there’s no reason we couldn’t place a ballot measure requiring DIA to transition to private, non-union, security contractors within a year.

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