Politics aside, what should we do about the TSA?

American voters, who have felt powerless against the allegedly invasive screening methods used by an expanding TSA, got an unexpected gift from a very unexpected place last week.

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., the party adopted a platform that included a pledge to reform the TSA.

I’m not making this up.

Republicans reining in the TSA. Who would have thought?

Here’s the actual platform language:

While the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks brought about a greater need for homeland security, the American people have already delivered their verdict on the Transportation Security Administration: its procedures – and much of its personnel – need to be changed.

It is now a massive bureaucracy of 65,000 employees who seem to be accountable to no one for the way they treat travelers. We call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking.

It’s the first time since the TSA’s creation a decade ago that any major political party has taken an official stand on the agency, and it marks a real turning point. Until now, the cause of TSA reform has been marginalized to a few activist legislators on both sides of the aisle.

But with this document, all that changes.

Disclosure: I’m a registered independent. I disagree with many of the Republican party’s platform issues. But on the issue of TSA reform, I stand with the GOP.

Something needs to be done. Now.

Will the Democrats follow? We won’t know until their official platform is adopted at their national convention in Charlotte next week. (I doubt it. The early buzz on its platform, and a look at previous position papers, suggests the TSA remains a non-issue. But we can hope.)

The TSA’s critics aren’t exactly doing backflips. Because while almost everyone can agree with the first few sentences of the Republican platform section on the TSA — that the agency is in need of reform, and that it’s a “massive bureaucracy” that seems accountable to no one — there’s no consensus on what to do about it.

The TSA’s most hard-line critics want to eliminate the agency, replacing it with private airport security. Others say the agency should be reformed but remain part of the federal government.

Almost no one is publicly saying the agency works just fine as it is. To claim the TSA is doing a good job protecting America’s transportation systems in the face of widespread complaints, lawsuits and its own paper trail of misdeeds, would probably be political suicide.

As usual, it isn’t what candidates are saying, but what they aren’t saying, that’s the problem.

Pretending the TSA isn’t an issue would be foolish, an indication that a candidate is tone-deaf and out of touch with the reality of traveling in 2012.

Yet even acknowledging the TSA is an issue can be politically risky, too. Consider the latest dust-up between Texas Rep. Ron Paul and TSA agents in Clearwater, Fla., last week.

Coincidence? I doubt it.

The only ones who benefit from remaining silent on the issue of the TSA is the TSA bureaucracy and the subcontractors and lobbyists who have made a fortune from our collective fears.

Everyone else loses. The voters lose, because they get four more years of an incompetent, overpriced and dishonest agency “protecting” us from a nonexistent threat, critics will point out. The incumbents, should they be re-elected, will also lose — more specifically, their legacies will be tarnished because they will always be remembered as the ones who failed to curb a wasteful and abusive federal agency.

Like it or not, the TSA already is an election-year issue.

If Democrats, independents and Green Party candidates remain silent on the problems of the TSA, then we should all be prepared for another four years of abuse at the hands of an agency that is, by most accounts, of control.

And the nominees who ignore the reality of traveling today should prepare themselves too — for a probable electoral defeat.


  • Well some people seem to feel if it is a private organization doing the searches and gropings rather than officers of the US government then it is not an infringement of the rights granted by the constitution and these businesses have a right to protect their business. However if the security measures are still mandated not by those businesses but rather by the government then it is still an infringement of those rights.
    Also taking legal substances from people who have a legal right to own those substances is theft whether you call it confiscation or not. lets face it the government has gotten way out of control through the DHS etc. the “security” backlash from 9/11 has meant a increase number of instances of civil liberties which seems to indicate that the US government is allowing the terrorists to win by causing the government themselves to become terrorists.
    The non loss ideal response to 9/11 would have been to make it harder for people to take over the airplane which they did do. However they cannot keep someone from harming people on the airplane. I didn’t mind the idea of air marshals who would have the right to contain and arrest people causing trouble on the planes either. I do object however to the increased invasion of privacy and the indignities of the strip search machines and the invasive pat downs. These pat downs are of a type that police are not allowed to use unless they are actually going to be putting a person into a jail cell. This was according to a person who said he was a policeman.

  • Michael

    “Disclosure: I’m a registered independent. I disagree with many of the
    Republican party’s platform issues. But on the issue of TSA reform, I
    stand with the GOP.” It hurts me to say this, and I am not being contentious for the sake of it. I’m assuming the above means that you tend more Left than the GOP. If this is the case, I would say that you don’t have much of a basis for outrage that the TSA has been allowed to flourish. Though you’ve come to recognize power abuse and corruption when it’s shoved into your crotch, this is only the culmination of many years of a systematic cultural and institutional attack on values, and clear thought. If your political position is as I surmised it to be, a urge you to learn sharpen your political and cultural analytical skills. To be more more distrustful of political agitators, and those grabbing power for any stated reason. This disaster wasn’t create in a vacuum.

    • Michael, no, it wasn’t created in a vacuum; it was created by both political parties, both of which are corrupt, both of which are interested in one thing and one thing only — power — and both of which have been taking a dump on civil liberties for years.

      If civil liberties are the kind of “values” you’re talking about, agreed. If you mean the cultural wars, forget it.

      • michael

        You’re right, ‘values’ are vague and everyone has them. What I meant is a principled attachment to the spirit of our tradition of law as inherited as a nation, and personal self-governance. And I don’t know how we define ‘civil liberties’ anymore either. Is affirmative action included in ‘defending civil liberties? If yes, that would be an excellent example of what I am talking about. We cede our personal rights, or allow equity-in-process to be bent, for a good cause, then complain when there is no end to it.

        • By civil liberties, I mean the right against unwarranted search and seizure, the right to free speech, peaceable assembly, petition for redress of grievances, free press, practice (or not) of religion, etc. — basically the Bill of Rights.

          Affirmative action is a whole ‘nother subject and I’m not going to get into that on this blog.

          • michael

            I’m with you on that. But not just the letter of those rights but also the ideas (values) that engender them. My point is that people have been so eager to ignore key founding principles for decades, in the name of some warm and fuzzy cause, or simply for vote buying, that it has created a climate where most people will ask, “TSA, yeah it’s a hassle but why make such a big deal out of it?” So when someone, on the one hand makes a point of distancing themselves from the the one big party which is the only refuge for conservatism (to some degree), and one the other, claims bewilderment that the TSA can get away with what it does – it makes me really wish people would be more astute as to their policy consequences.

  • Rosemary

    Lisa, once again your sadly correct. Regardless of the airport I have traveled too the story is the same…TSA employees seemingly enjoying watching people get visually striped search or physically groped. Now TSA has moved on. If you have a drink, purchased AFTER going through security. an agent may run up to you spray an unknown fluid on a pad and wipe your drink or hover above your straw. If you ask what they are spraying for you to breath or drink, either verbally or in writing, you won’t get an answer. This should frighten all who travel. Why the secrecy from the TSA on what they are forcing us to breath? It must not be healthy.

  • David

    well, it’s a start.

  • TSAisTerrorism

    While I am encouraged that TSA itself has become an election year issue, Lisa, as usual hits the nail squarely on the head. It doesn’t matter who signs the paychecks so long as someone, somewhere thinks that effective security is achieved through electronic strip searches and hands in our pants. Enough already. Shut.It.Down.

    And we should all remember that Michael Chertoff, the man enthralled with electronically strip searching children because, hey, you never know when one of them might become a bomb mule, is one of Romney’s top advisors. If anyone thinks Romney or the Republicans are going to make TSA better, they’re in for a rude awakening.

    Is it kosher to post this link? Sorry if it isn’t:


  • Bob

    The DHS and everything attached to it needs to be eliminated. Not just the TSA.

    The GOP platform will just turn the TSA over to private contractors. Thats just not enough. Outsourcing the gestapo isnt much help if the same people are in charge.

  • Thin gruel.

    I repeat: private security won’t do anything. SFO has private security and there are just as many stories of abuse coming out of there as anywhere else. Getting groped by a private sector goon is no better than getting groped by a public sector one. At airports with private security, the TSA still calls the shots.

    And “look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking”? You mean like the strip-search scanners? Maybe those contractors who are getting rich off of us can develop even more explicit images. Maybe a robot rather than a person can probe our parts. That’s pretty impersonal.

    I guess the mention of the TSA in the platform is better than nothing, but not much. Bottom line: neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to do squat about the TSA. More of them — many, many more — are going to have to be abused before anything changes. And that’s going to take years.