Another Fine Mess

June 10, 2015
I promised myself I wouldn’t pile on too badly about the recent TSA failure rate, but by their own count, it keeps getting worse.

That’s another fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into.

I promised myself I wouldn’t pile on too badly about the recent TSA failure rate, but by their own count, it keeps getting worse. In 2002, when they were really paying attention, the red teams reported about a 25% failure rate.  More stringent training ensued, and in 2007, a USA Today story relates rates between 60%-75% at some major airports.  Now that they’re copping to a 95% failure rate, I guess the good news is that there’s not much room to get worse.  One has to wonder- if that’s the public story, what are they still keeping secret?  The mind boggles.  Mine did.

The immediate TSA leadership reaction, of course, was to “reassign” the Acting Administrator.  Yeah, that’ll help.  Mel Carraway had only been on the job a few months, marking time while waiting for a new appointee, and in that brief time apparently couldn’t fix the 13-year cumulative decline in performance passed on by five Administrators (McGaw, Loy, Stone, Hawley, Pistole), and a passel of so many Acting Administrators in between that Wikipedia couldn’t keep up... although it has noted the early Congressional confirmation of Admiral Peter Neffenger a few days ago as the next to give it a shot.  Oh, and Congress has already scheduled a number of hearings.  Yeah, that’ll help.

What was TSA’s other immediate operational reaction?  Yep – at one major hub airport, even more screeners were observed inside the loading bridge, randomly selecting already-screened people for additional bag searches and pat-downs as they were getting on the plane.  That’s like adding a fourth Stooge to help Larry, Mo and Curly with that really useful behavior detection stuff that even TSA apparently didn’t believe works either.

Note also that this has nothing to do with the hold baggage screening.  DHS’ Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have both issued reports on equipment-based test failures, inadequate maintenance, and lack of documentation on performance data, all of which cumulatively suggest not only that the enormously expensive equipment may not be working properly, or at the correct detection standards, but that TSA and the operators have no way of knowing that.

Perhaps the most disturbing anecdote repeated in most of the media stories on checkpoint screening was the one in which the red team investigator had taped a fake explosive to the middle of his back, and he was stopped after setting off the alarm at the magnetometer... but the ensuing pat-down failed to discover it.  In other words, after finding the bomb, they still couldn’t find the bomb.  I can just hear Umar Abdulmutallab thinking “I set fire to my crotch for this...?”

Sometimes, the amount of self-control it requires to not say what’s on my mind is so immense, I need a nap afterwards.