Of Course: Press Blame Long Airport Lines on TSA ‘Budget Cuts’

Almost any time a government agency or program fails to perform, those involved complain that they don't have enough money to properly do their jobs. Unless the matter involves national defense, the press gullibly swallows their contentions.

The Transportation Safety Administration is the latest case in point. Lines at airport security checkpoints are already getting noticeably longer, and we haven't yet hit the summer travel season, with "all signs" predicting that "queues will far surpass those of years past." Items at, among other places, the New York Times ("tight budgets"), Bloomberg News ("budgetary limits"), and WABC News in Newark ("budget cuts") are all trying to help the agency get its hands on more taxpayer money. A Tuesday editorial at Investor's Business Daily — as usual, reporting facts beat journalists somehow never get around to reporting — tells us that more money hasn't solved the problem before, and that there's a better answer (links are in original; bolds are mine throughout this post):

No, Budget Cuts Aren’t Why You’re Waiting Hours To Get Through Airport Security

... Bureaucracy: Air travelers are in for a long hot summer. News reports show airport security lines stretching across airports and tell of passengers forced to wait hours for the privilege of taking their shoes and belts off and getting patted down by a TSA agent.

These delays are costing passengers time and airlines money. American Airlines says that 6,800 missed flights in one week in March because of delays getting through airport security checkpoints. Some airports are recommending that passengers arrive three hours before their flight.

Blame for this disaster is said to be tight budgets and staff cutbacks at the TSA.  As The New York Times put it: “A combination of fewer Transportation Security Administration screeners, tighter budgets, new checkpoint procedures and growing numbers of passengers is already creating a mess at airports around the country.”

That is always the excuse whenever a government agency fails to its job. In this case, it’s simply not true. At $7.3 billion this year, TSA’s budget is 9% higher than it was in 2007. Its full-time workforce climbed by 4.3% over those years, according to official budget documents. (The TSA conveniently measures its current budget and staffing against the peak produced by President Obama’s massive stimulus spending.)

More important is the fact that the TSA’s gains since 2007 came at a time of declining air travel. ...

... Plus, the TSA has fewer airports to manage than it once did, since 22 — including San Francisco International, Kansas City International — have ditched the TSA and hired private security firms to do their passenger screening.

... A privately run screening service wouldn’t be as wasteful, and they’d have the flexibility to quickly meet changes in demand, something the hidebound TSA can’t. Plus, separating screening operations from government regulations would result in more accountability where there is little today.

Until Congress decides to get rid of the TSA entirely, and replace it with private screening companies, don’t expect the airport security experience to get much better.

The Bloomberg story linked earlier at least gives a few later paragraphs to the inconvenient fact that the government has been getting what it wants for TSA — and, as usual, hasn't managed it well:

A Senate subcommittee has agreed to allow the Homeland Security Department to shift $34 million to TSA. It would allow the agency to hire 768 transportation security officers, as the agency calls its screeners, and to pay additional overtime to existing employees, according to a press release by Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican who is chairman of the panel.

... While saying the House will “carefully consider” the request, Representative John Carter, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s homeland security panel, accused TSA of failing to act as the problem worsened.

“Common sense and historical trends tell us air travel will increase during the summer months and when the economy improves, and TSA has simply failed to plan responsibly,” Carter said.

“Year after year, Congress has met the budget requests of TSA,” he said. Lawmakers increased funds for TSA this year above what President Obama requested, he said.

Readers can see what self-reported wait times are at various U.S. airports by going to an interactive page at TSA. A review at about 11 a.m. Eastern Time this morning at that link showed that roughly 40 percent and 55 percent of the wait times reported at Chicago's O'Hare and Dallas/Forth Worth, respectively, were "31+ Minutes," which appears to be the highest value users can enter (so imagine how long the waits really could be). Meanwhile, only one of a combined 35 reported wait times at San Francisco and Kansas City, the two major airports IBD cited with private screening, hit the "31+" threshold.

If an agency is getting all the money it wants and still isn't doing its job well, that would seem to indicate that it either needs new management, or that it can't do its job well as long as it's being run by the government — but the press almost never raises those issues. It's almost always, and almost always solely, about more money.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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