One of the most effective weapons in protecting airlines passengers from another terrorist attack is not the federal agency created to do the job, but the passengers themselves, according to a new congressional report.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is an ineffective bureaucracy of nearly 140,000 workers that has failed to detect any major terrorist threat since September 11, 2001, including the Shoe Bomber, the Underwear Bomber, the Times Square Bomber and the Toner Cartridge Bomb Plot, according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“TSA’s operations are outmoded—the primary threat is no longer hijacking, but explosives designed to take down an aircraft,” the report said.
“The U.S. has avoided another successful terrorist attack primarily through the actions of passengers and crew, foreign intelligence agencies, and Customs and Border Protection, along with good luck,” the report says.
“Today, TSA suffers from bureaucratic morass and mismanagement. The agency needs to properly refocus its resources on assessing threats and intelligence, instituting appropriate regulations, and auditing and adjusting security performance. TSA cannot do this effectively as a massive human resources agency,” the report said.
Rep. John Mica (R.-Fla.), chairman of the committee that authored the report and one of the agency’s chief critics in Congress, actually led the fight to create the TSA. The agency is responsible for screening airline passengers at airport security points, as well as analyzing intelligence and setting security standards. However, Mica says the agency is a failure.
“Unfortunately, TSA has lost its way,” Mica said Wednesday in releasing the report.
“While we are safer today than we were 10years ago, this is largely thanks to the vigilance of American citizens and passengers, the actions of flight crews and armed pilots, the addition of hardened cockpit doors, and the assistance of foreign intelligence agencies,” Mica said.
“After 10 years, we cannot continue to rely on luck. It is time for reform,” Mica said.
The report lists numerous recommendations to restructure the agency, and Mica said lawmakers on his committee plan to start moving legislation to implement needed changes.
Among those alterations, the report says the agency needs greater independence from its parent, the Homeland Security Department, with more flexibility to quickly respond to new intelligence and evolving threats from terrorists, and a revised screening program that allows airports to privatize those efforts.
Other than Romania, Poland and Bulgaria, the U.S. is the only government in the Western world that functions as the airport security operator, administrator, regulator and auditor, the report points out.
The number of personnel has mushroomed to nearly 4,000 workers in its headquarters making an average of $103,000 a year, and should be drastically reduced, the report says.
The report also cites numerous operation and technology failures that it says totaled $57 billion in taxpayer dollars, including $39 million for portals to detect explosives called “puffers,” which were unable to actually detect explosives.
“TSA needs a vision and purpose that goes beyond throwing expensive equipment and invasive searches at passengers who do not pose a security threat,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“TSA was envisioned and sold to the American people as a proactive agency that would strategically deploy the latest technology and cutting-edge tactics to protect travelers,” Issa said. “Despite these high ambitions, the agency has become a backwards-looking dinosaur that seeks employees through pizza-box advertising and struggles to detect actual terrorist threats.”