The TSA’s 20th Birthday Should Be Its Last
Exactly 20 years ago today, President George W. Bush signed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act into law and created the Transportation Security Administration, better known as the TSA. A response to the 9/11 attacks, the TSA was thought to be a necessary tool for confronting the new reality of terror in the skies.
Two decades later, the TSA has more than 54,000 employees, a budget of $8 billion dollars, and a long track record of harassing passengers for no good reason. Far from contributing to actual safety, the TSA is a stunning example of government failure: Its absurd travel restrictions make air travel no safer, deprive passengers of their civil liberties, and make the process of flying much more costly, time-consuming, inconvenient, and unenjoyable. The agency should never have been created, and its 20th birthday is as good a time as any to abolish it.
For starters, the TSA routinely fails at its main purpose: preventing passengers from carrying deadly weapons onto airplanes. TSA agents constantly miss weapons, drugs, and other illicit items when government agents try to smuggle them in as part of testing.
“TSA screeners failed to detect weapons, drugs, and explosives almost 80 percent of the time,” noted the Heritage Foundation in 2017. “While the exact failure rate is classified, multiple sources indicate it is greater than 70 percent.” During one test, at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, the TSA’s failure rate was 95 percent.
The 9/11 terror attacks, in which a small number of men were able to use crude, simple weapons to hijack airplanes and crash them into important buildings, were a scarring moment for the nation. The U.S. government vowed to be more vigilant. But the truth of the matter is that preventing hijackings is now trivially easy: Pilots can lock the cockpit doors, which are almost impossible for intruders to breach. Prior to 9/11 most airplane hijackings involved detours to different locations; hijackers did not intend to crash the planes, and thus neither crews nor passengers had much reason to fight back. This calculus is forever changed: Would-be plane hijackers will face insurmountable difficulties, whether or not they’ve received aggressive pat-downs from the TSA.
Meanwhile, the TSA’s security theater has made air travel a much more grueling process. It’s not just the ritualistic humiliation of having to remove belts and shoes, empty out backpacks and suitcases, and submit to full-body scanners. TSA agents are also frequently caught stealing from passengers, groping them, and delaying them for no reason. Again, there is no point to any of this. It does not make people safer. If anything, it makes us less safe: It is likely that some people choose to drive to their destination, rather than deal with the hassle. Car travel, though, is far more dangerous than air travel—many more people die in car crashes than in plane crashes each year. And not even COVID-19 could tip the scales in airplanes’ favor, according to The Washington Post.
Enough is enough. There is not a single good reason that Americans should have to endure such misery at the hands of this utterly pointless bureaucracy. The best time to abolish the TSA was right after it was created. The second-best time is now.
New York Times columnist David Brooks has written a terrific recap of the recent National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, for The Atlantic. His article makes many of the criticisms that Reason‘s Stephanie Slade has leveled at the right’s latest intellectual trend:
The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called “the left” that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order
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