Tiny pieces of common sense for the TSA

Change may be coming to the TSA. Modest change, to be sure, but smart and necessary change. 

First, some quick background. Five years ago, in a spectacular explosion of institutional idiocy, Thuggish Subpoena Abuse aggressively questioned a pair of travel writers at their homes after they posted a widely distributed TSA security directive on that terrifying new thing called the internet.

As Wired reported:

“Special agents from the TSA’s Office of Inspection interrogated two U.S. bloggers, one of them an established travel columnist, and served them each with a civil subpoena demanding information on the anonymous source that provided the TSA document.”

The TSA’s “special agents” also seized a computer from one of the writers, Steven Frischling, after looking through his Blackberry and iPhone.

That “TSA document” had been about as secret as a billboard, having been sent to everyone with a pulse in the aviation business; it was, ladies and gentlemen, an industry directive. But Thoroughly Stupidly Aggressive has real-life federal agents, in addition to its army of wannabe-cops at the airport checkpoints; and the presence of real cops in the agency’s Office of Inspection has (along with the less-foolish but not-real-busy Federal Air Marshals) given some in the TSA an unfortunate law enforcement presence.

This summer, though, Congress may actually bother to fix that problem. The TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2014 passed the House in late July, and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

“Consistent with Federal law and regulations,” the bill reads, “for law enforcement officers to qualify for premium pay as criminal investigators, the officers must, in general, spend on average at least 50 percent of their time investigating, apprehending, or detaining individuals suspected or convicted of offenses against the criminal laws of the United States.”

That’s the problem. TSA inspectors (inspectors, not airport screeners) are currently considered law enforcement officers and can qualify for guns, badges, and cop salaries. But they mostly don’t do a cop job.

And so, the bill says (please applaud as you read this next part), the TSA:

shall reclassify criminal investigator positions in the Office of Inspection as noncriminal investigator positions or non-law enforcement positions if the individuals in those positions do not, or are not expected to, spend an average of at least 50 percent of their time performing criminal investigative duties.”

It’s a small gesture, but a good one. Let’s hope the Senate summons a smidgen of good sense in time to get this bill passed.

Meanwhile, we can expect the crimes at the checkpoint to continue.