Megan McArdle takes on the long and unnecessary TSA lines, and ends up body slamming government in the process . . .
Here's Why the TSA Is So Terrible
. . . with a brilliant takedown of precisely why government cannot function the way we need.
More below the fold.
So, what is the TSA's problem, well, besides long lines?
"The problem is occurring all around the country at busy airports. The TSA is blaming inadequate staffing, but government bureaucrats always blame inadequate staffing, since agency headcount is generally a good proxy for “importance of the boss of said agency.” As far as I was able to tell from where I stood, all the scanners seemed to be operating, making me wonder what, exactly, extra people would have done, since no matter how many staffers you assign, only one person can pass through each checkpoint at a time. Besides, the number of passengers is not actually up at O’Hare airport that much, according to the latest numbers I could find.
So I tend to place more credence on the second explanation: The TSA has slowed down screening after last summer’s humiliating failure to detect almost any of the contraband in a security audit. I was fortunate enough to have enrolled in TSA Precheck, which had a blessedly short line. Nonetheless, I spent more than 20 minutes waiting to get through. There was a confused fellow who must have gone through the metal detector half a dozen times before he finally realized he needed to shuck his belt, and two passengers who seemed to speak almost no English. Then, with the line still backing up, the TSA person made the woman ahead of me stop and go back through because she had jokingly danced back and forward. And made me go through again because … I walked through with my hands in my pockets, having jammed them there while I stood around watching the show.
I have spent a day and a half struggling to figure out how moving backwards and then forwards at walking speed, could defeat a metal detector. Either the magnetic circuit detects metal or it doesn’t. The TSA agents didn’t seem to know either; they just threatened the woman that she could be kept off her flight for playing around. Apparently, issuing absurd threats to American citizens over harmless behavior is something that requires a complement of two TSA officers. No wonder they’re understaffed.
But this is the essential logic of bureaucracy. TSA will suffer terribly if a terrorist slips through with a bomb -- or even if the auditors make it through with a fake bomb. On the other hand, what happens to them if there are long lines? Not much. They’ve got to be there for eight hours, so why should they care if we are too? This is why government agencies tend to be much more attuned to remote risks than the real and persistent costs they impose on the rest of us.
This is also the essential problem of American security theater. Thorough screening is very expensive and time consuming, particularly because most of our airports weren’t built for this level of screening. At Reagan, my preferred airport, there’s pretty much nowhere to put another security line."
We call this misalignment of client. The TSA believes its clients are 1. The President and his staff, 2. The senior Homeland Security and TSA bureaucrats, and 3. Congress. Notice you are not on the client list. You are an annoyance which they need to process, but their primary goals are to make the actual clients happy, you simply do not count.
The absolutely best way to make all the clients happy is to create a system where no contraband ever gets through security. The creation of long lines is not a negative since it allows client number 2 to publicly state that the long lines are due to the lack of budget, and security agents, and request more money. This allows clients 1, and 3 to wax long about how more money will create the best security and shorter lines. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Megan gets all of this exactly correct. And it cannot be limited to the TSA, or Homeland Security, it is how all of government works. As Megan notes, headcount, and budget size are determinative of importance in DC. Which is an acronym for "Dilettante Crap," for it is in DC the home of Dilettante Crap where all of this rhubarb comes from. The EPA runs around the country watching and fining any business which accidentally burps a de minimus amount of pollutants into the environment, while ignoring public entities like Portlandia, which pump billions of gallons of toxins, and pollutions into the local rivers every year. The TSA hosts what amounts to an hours long No-Dinner Theater of the Security Absurd every time you fly, and the Department of Transportation spends ever more money on irreducibly inane light rail, tram, streetcar, and high speed rail to nowhere schemes.
All of this is to ensure massive budgets, and headcount, while pleasing all three clients.
This inane over bureaucratization of government has become the hallmark of the progressive blue model, along with the public union problem, and the pension crisis, both public and private.
Megan sticks the landing:
"I’d bet that in the next six months, the TSA will be rewarded for the longer lines by having its budget and headcount increased. If that doesn’t fix the problem, I’d guess the TSA's next step will be to make it look as if it did -- by relaxing the screening standards once again and thereby speeding up the lines. The end result of this cycle: a bigger, more expensive agency that still doesn’t do much to keep us safe. As the nice lady said to me when I finally deplaned, “Welcome to Washington.'"
If we were sane we would penalize the politicians for this bullshit, and demand elimination of most federal agencies, but we don't and won't. When Maddog speaks with the average Joe, and Joan on the streets, he finds that they all believe we are safer because of -- security theater. This is an incomprehensible answer, but an honest one. We think this is due to the Jodie Foster effect:
"How do these people have all the time to know the things that they know?” She searched for the answer to her own question, and smiled. “I think I’m just not . . . I’m not a fact person. I don’t really care about facts. I don’t even really retain them and I find them anxious-making. I like ideas.”
Jodie Foster on Wall Street’s ‘Rigged System,’ Mel Gibson, and Stars’ Right to Privacy
They don't care about facts, they find they make them anxious, and so avoid them. And like Jodie, they simply bask in ideas they like. Mostly this means adopting an ideology which makes them feel good about themselves, regardless of actual outcomes. Thus, the fact that Islamist what to kill Americans makes them anxious, so they ignore that and focus on the idea that the TSA eliminates the problem. Viola, the world returns to that beautiful poster of the world they had on their wall when they were 12. And any time there is a new scare, just up the money to the TSA, that will put it right!
And, so, we have a government of ponderous dysfunctionality, because the ultimate auditors of government function, the American people, are in deep denial, but willing to accept any costly platitudes of salvation, no matter how absurd.
Ultimately, this is how all metastatic governments begin. The people walk away from their responsibilities to act as ultimate auditor, and allow the morally impaired people willing to run for political office their heads. This way lies both madness and tyranny.