Thursday, May 20, 2010

TSA a Bloated 'Bureaucratic Nightmare,' Says GOP Congressman Mica, Calling for "Immediate Reorganization" of the Agency

In advance of a new federal report today on the failures of the Transportation Security Administration’s vaunted "behavior detection," U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL) called for a reorganization of the TSA, which he called a "bloated, ineffective bureaucracy."

Mica also says that the TSA is top-heavy with highly paid supervisors. AT TSA headquarters, he says, over 30 percent of employees are supervisors, with an average salary of over $105,000.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the TSA’s behavior-detection program, known as SPOT ("Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques"), at Mica’s request. The public version of the report (GAO-10-763) is expected to be released later today.

[I'll post the link when it's available]

Says Mica, the ranking minority member on the House transportation committee, "GAO’s report confirms that TSA has bungled the development and deployment of a potentially important layer of aviation security. Other countries, such as Israel, successfully employ behavior-detection techniques at their airports, but the bloated, ineffective bureaucracy of TSA has produced another security failure for U.S. transportation systems.

"I have written to Secretary Napolitano to express the need for the immediate reevaluation and reorganization of the TSA, an agency teetering on the verge of disaster," he said, referring to a letter sent today to Napolitano.

The TSA, as I have noted repeatedly, has been without a permanent director for 16 months, and is still being run by the same Bush-era appointees and hires who have presided over its myriad operational and security failures and out-of-control budgets since the agency was started in 2003.

Mica's statement continues:

According to the GAO report, TSA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on the SPOT program. TSA began pilot tests of SPOT in 2003, and began to significantly increase deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) in March 2007. Approximately 3,000 BDOs are now deployed to over 100 of 457 TSA-regulated U.S. airports.

However, according to the GAO, TSA never scientifically validated the list of behaviors underpinning the program, never determined whether the techniques could be applied for counter-terrorism or in an airport environment, and never conducted a cost-benefit analysis.

The program has also failed to identify known terrorists that have traveled through SPOT airports. Since the program’s inception, 17 known terrorists have traveled through eight SPOT airports on 23 different occasions. This includes Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber.

The GAO reports that between May 2004 and August 2008:

-- 2 billion passengers went through SPOT airports
-- 150,000 were selected for secondary screening
-- 14,000 were referred to law enforcement
-- 1,100 were arrested
-- 0 were arrested for terrorism.

Mica had urged the development of a behavior detection program, based on the highly successful Israeli model utilized by EL Al Airlines.

Unfortunately, the TSA’s SPOT Program is not like the Israeli behavior detection model. Unlike the Israeli program, SPOT is conducted from a distance, with no personal interaction between the passenger and the TSA employee performing the SPOT screening unless the passenger is identified for secondary screening,” Mica said. “El Al also trains all their staff in behavior detection techniques, not just the screening staff working the passenger checkpoints.

Earlier airport screening penetration tests have repeatedly demonstrated the TSA’s failure to detect threats. I sought a robust behavior detection program to address those failures. Unfortunately, penetration testing continues to show that even with new screening technology and the SPOT Program, the aviation screening system is not working.

TSA is a bureaucratic nightmare, with over 60,000 employees and top heavy with supervisory and administrative staff. At TSA headquarters, where 30 percent of employees are supervisors, the average salary is over $105,000. Thirteen percent of field employees are supervisors. This is a massive bureaucracy that cannot effectively ensure the safety of U.S. transportation systems, and something must be done to improve the agency’s performance." [End of Mica statement]

[MY COMMENT} And oh, while Mica is excoriating the TSA, maybe he might consider leaning on his own party, which blocked two of President Obama's nominees to head the agency on ideological grounds (one for not being sufficiently anti-union), to get out of the way and let the president appoint someone to get this "bloated bureaucracy" under control -- and start fixing the chronic security failures.


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