Congress Has Some Advice for TSA

According to a new report released by House Congressional leaders, the Transportation Security Administration has lost its focus on air transportation security and instead has become an “enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy.”

According to a new report released by House Congressional leaders, the Transportation Security Administration has lost its focus on air transportation security and instead has become an “enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy.” The report provides an outline of what is wrong with the TSA ten years after its inception and offers suggestions for improving the airport screening process.

The problems with the TSA as defined in the report are:

It lacks administrative competency and is made inefficient by its massive bureaucracy

The report notes that the number of TSA employees has ballooned nearly 400% since 2001, growing from 16,500 to over 65,000. The TSA has spent almost $57 billion to secure air travel and the agency’s classified performance results do not indicate a good return on this investment.

It is failing to effectively carry out agency operations
The TSA has failed to develop an effective and comprehensive plan to evolve from treating all passengers as a threat into an organization that assesses a level of risk for individual passengers and acts accordingly. Despite its presence, over 25,000 security breaches have occurred in airports since the advent of the TSA.

It is failing to develop and deploy effective technology
TSA has failed to prioritize the deployment of in-line explosive section systems at the nation’s largest airports, it “wasted” $39 million in procuring 207 Explosive Trace Detection Portals and deployed only 101 due to inconsistent results with the machines, and spent over $122 million on 500 Advanced Imaging Technology devices which were deployed “in a haphazard and easily thwarted manner.”

The report also states that the TSA has experienced a number of personnel failures, is generally failing to achieve operational success, and its leadership structure is flawed.

So how should the TSA’s problems be solved? The Congressmen offered these recommendations:

  • The TSA must act with greater independence from the DHS bureaucracy
    The TSA must have the flexibility to respond quickly and intelligently to any intelligence it receives about terrorist threats, otherwise it will remain a reactive rather than proactive agency.
  • The TSA Administrator’s stature must be elevated
    The history of this position is one with a lot of turnover and a long vacancy which has made the agency’s leadership unstable. The Administrator position must be a priority appointment for the President, and the length of the term of the position along with its compensation should be reexamined.
  • The TSA must function as a federal regulator, analyzing intelligence, setting screening and security standards and protocols based on risk, auditing passenger and baggage screening operations, and enforcing national screening standards
  • The agency needs to evolve out of the human resources business and focus on analyzing and disseminating intelligence information, developing a regulatory structure to secure the critical interests of the U.S. transportation sector, and enforcing these regulations to maintain a standardized set of practices throughout the country.
  • The TSA should expand and revise the Screening Partnership Program so that more airport authorities can transition airport screening operations to private contractors under federal supervision
  • The TSA Administrator must set performance standards for passenger and baggage screening operations based on risk analysis and common sense
  • The number of TSA administrative personnel must be dramatically reduced
  • The number of TSA personnel stationed abroad and the number of TSA personnel that oversee key international departure points with direct flights into the United States and are engaged with other governments and organizations must be adjusted in order to effectively respond to the international threat to the U.S. transportation network
  • The TSA should require that the screening of all passengers and baggage on in-bound flights is equivalent to U.S. domestic screening standards
  • The TSA must develop an expedited screening program using biometric credentials that would allow TSA to positively identify trusted passengers and crew members so that the agency can prioritize its screening resources based on risk
  • TSA performance results should be made public after 24 months or when deemed appropriate for security purposes, so that passengers can know the level of security they receive
  • A qualified outside organization must conduct a comprehensive, independent study of TSA’s management, operations, and technical capabilities, and make recommendations to increase TSA’s efficacy and its ability to better analyze intelligence and set risk-based, common sense security standards

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.