The TSA Isn’t Keeping Us Safe, Says Inspector General Report

Congressman: “Just thinking about the breaches there, it’s horrific”

Security screening area at Denver International Airport

Security screening area at Denver International Airport

Danpaluska, via Wikimedia Commons CC0 1.0

In a couple weeks, the Transportation Security Administration, best known as the TSA, will finally be old enough to sign up for an account online. Born in the months immediately after the September 11th attacks, the TSA is meant to serve as a shield against future hijackings, it's blue-gloved agents and security gates are supposed to be barriers through which no threat can pass. But frankly, it is terrible at its job. Yesterday, Inspector General John Roth testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and his verdict on the TSA was brutal.

From his statement to the committee:

Our testing was designed to test checkpoint operations in real world conditions. It was not designed to test specific, discrete segments of checkpoint operations, but rather the system as a whole. The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error. We found layers of security simply missing. It would be misleading to minimize the rigor of our testing, or to imply that our testing was not an accurate reflection of the effectiveness of the totality of aviation security.

The majority of the Inspector General's recommendations aren't disclosed because the "recommendation includes Sensitive Security Information," some changes are obvious. The Inspector General's statement and testimony both noted that while the TSA is required to conduct manual reviews of aviation worker records, "due to the workload at larger airports, this inspection process may look at as few as one percent of all aviation workers' applications."

The hearing comes on the heel of reports, like this one from September, on auditors ability to get weapons through TSA checkpoints. While the unclassified summary of the report doesn't specify just how easy it was for the auditors, at yesterday's hearing Missouri Rep. Stephen F. Lynch said, "I would use pathetic in looking at the number of times people got through with guns and bombs, in these covert testing exercises. It really was pathetic, by which I mean pitiful, the number of times people got through. Just thinking about the breaches there, it's horrific."

Identifying the problem is the first step to fixing it. Still, 13 years into increased airport security, it’d be nice to know that existing security measures work.