As TSA turns 10, agency critics call for reform — and more

On the eve of the TSA’s 10th birthday, and the official launch of TSA News Blog, critics of the beleaguered agency are lining up to call for the agency to be reformed — or eliminated.

The loudest cries are coming from Congress, where a new report (PDF) earlier this week concluded the agency was bloated, ineffective and in dire need of reform.

“Congress created TSA ten years ago to be a lean, risk-based, adaptive agency, responsible for analyzing intelligence, setting security standards, and overseeing the nation’s transportation security structure,” says Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “Unfortunately, TSA has lost its way.”

Among the key findings:

• Since 2001, TSA staff has grown from 16,500 to over 65,000, a near-400% increase. In the same amount of time, total passenger enplanements in the U.S. have increased less than 12%

• Over the past ten years, TSA has spent nearly $57 billion to secure the U.S. transportation network, and TSA‘s classified performance results do not reflect a good return on this taxpayer investment.

• TSA‘s primary mission, transportation security, has been neglected due to the agency‘s constant focus on managing its enormous and unwieldy bureaucracy.

Some critics have gone further. Rep. Ron Paul in October called for the elimination of the TSA, as part of his budget-reduction plan.

And this week, he was joined by former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern, who demanded that not only the TSA, but the Department of Homeland Security be dismantled.

McGovern, who was a senator from South Dakota before he was the Democratic Party’s nominee in 1972, said in his new book What It Means to be a Democrat that current airport security procedures were “ridiculous.”

“Watching the horrific events of events of 9/11 was an unimaginable shock to the American psyche,” he wrote. “We live with too much fear and not enough common sense.”

He added,

TSA has strayed from its security mission and mushroomed into a top-heavy bureaucracy that includes 3,986 headquarters staff, making $103,852 per year on average, and 9,656 administrators in the field. Currently, TSA has 65,000 employees. Unfortunately, over the past ten years, the agency has spent $57 billion on numerous operational and technology failures.

As the United States heads into a presidential election year, the TSA’s apparent failures are likely to become a campaign issue — although it’s entirely unclear which political party can claim the moral high ground. After all, TSA was created under a Republican president but its biggest controversies — including the body-scanner/pat-down problem — have happened on the watch of a Democratic president.