Archive for November 29th, 2010

Privatizing the TSA?

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) is proposing we (the United States) should privatize the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) because he claims private industry does a statistically better job of inspecting than the predominantly government run TSA and because private industry can do it (inspecting and providing security) cheaper.
Let’s start off with a few general observations: first, pre-9/11, safety and inspections were done by private industry and PAID for by private industry (and ultimately by the flying public).  Second, safety and inspections were vastly uneven in quality.  You got uneven security treatment between small, medium, large and ultra-large airports.  You got uneven treatment within the same airport – depending on the cost of labor in the area and the hour of day and the number of passengers being processed.  Many times the inspectors you got were recent immigrants who spoke limited English and who were not US citizens.  This is what happens when you pay market rates for minimally skilled and minimally trained employees.  I’m not saying the inspectors with language issues or non-citizens were necessarily “bad” employees or terrorist sympathizers.  All I am saying is the airports and airlines were not paying top dollar to get the finest staff money can buy.  I am also not saying the TSA is currently hiring the best employees money can buy.
One result of the old system was, unfortunately, 9/11.
When 9/11 happened, what did the the airline industry say?  We can’t be responsible for having a standard of performance across the board at all airports because it’s too expensive.  If that is something “the country” wants, the government will have to take over the hiring, training, and (most importantly) paying for this “suddenly” competent (US citizens and English speaking) staff.  Besides, they claimed, we’re already almost bankrupt from all of our competition (since deregulation) and sudden loss of confidence by the public in our ability to get them somewhere safely.
Now, of course, nine years later, the situation is vastly different!  The airlines are making money hand over fist (oh, wait, they aren’t).  The American public is more interested in protecting their bodies from being irradiated and / or patted than they are in getting to their destination alive (oh, wait, that’s not true either).  The TSA workforce can now be unionized, because we don’t have an openly anti-union President (oh, wait, that is true).  Government employees make more money than private sector employees, and do less to earn it (tell that to the active duty service men and women who make anywhere from one-quarter to one-tenth of what the contracted “security” forces make).  Private sector employees do a better job than public sector employees (why hasn’t Mr. Mica offered what is meant by “statistically better job”.  Is it 1% better?  5%?  30%?  And what kinds of inspection are they statistically better at?  Personal searches?  Baggage? Carry on?  Freight?)  Private sector employees work for less so they’re more efficient (well, that kind of assumes they do the same type and level of job, AND have the same training and skills set).  Somebody, please, remind me why was TSA created in the first place?  Oh, yeah, because the private sector couldn’t be expected to do the same job at any price as the government.
I’ll believe John Mica really wants to increase security at lower cost and reduce government when he calls for the airline and transportation industries to pay for their own security and stop expecting the American taxpayer to foot the bill.  (The way it used to be!)
So, if this really isn’t about safety or wages, what is Congressman Mica really upset about?  UNIONS!!  The evil unions which are choking the American free enterprise system – that’s what!!
Approximately 7.2% of the private sector are union workers.  That’s fewer than 1 in 10.   That’s about 7.4 million workers in the private sector.  Yes, clearly one can see how the overwhelming strength of a unionized American workforce is crushing the life out of the free enterprise system!!
Now the TSA has about 65,000 employees.  Obviously, some of those will be non-union — supervisors, managers and executives, but let’s assume the TSA is 100% union.  Letting TSA stay in the public workforce will swell the unionized public work force up from about 7.9 million to about 7.965 million!!  (Okay, let’s round that up to an even 8 million.)  That’s almost 38% of ALL public sector employees in a union!!  Surely, everyone can see the obvious danger to the Republic of having the unionized public sector workforce jump from 37.4% of all government employees up to a staggering 38% of all government employees!!   (“Please stop calling me Shirley!” – Leslie Nielsen, RIP — Sorry, I couldn’t resist…KMAB)
So, if it’s not about transportation safety or wages, and it’s really NOT about unions — then what is this really all about.  Well, I’m sorry to say, but it’s about basic emotional fear.  FEAR!!  The private sector employee has been driven like cattle to the cliff.  “Stay in line, keep your head down, work harder, be satisfied with whatever your current wages are (because at least you’ve got a job)…”   And now it’s the turn of the public sector employee to feel the threat.  FEAR!!!  You could be unemployed like 10% of the rest of your fellow citizens.  FEAR!!!  You could be underemployed and / or underpaid like a far larger percentage of American workers!  FEAR!!  You could get furloughed or have your pay reduced – like a substantial number of state and local government employees already have been.  FEAR!!
Get used to it America!!  The Republicans have taken back the House of Representatives in the last election.  Just wait until the lame-duck session is over and the Republican majority actually get control of the purse strings.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Did you think the President controlled the government budget and was responsible for how it’s allocated?  You’d better go back and read the Constitution!  You remember, that funny little piece of parchment the Tea Baggers and Republics want us to stick to ABSOLUTELY.
The funny thing is – I’m not a Republican, but I honestly do believe in limited government.  I do not, however, believe the TSA should be privatized.  I believe it should be all but eliminated.  The proper role of the TSA is to regulate the transportation security industry to make sure it provides safe transportation of people and goods around the country.  The TSA should not be checking people or bags.  They should be setting the quality standards for the security industry which does these things and the industry should be paid for by the people and companies which use transportation – be it air, train, bus or ship.  The American taxpayer should not be paying for the security of private industry!  The consumers of the services should be.  Based on the number of auditors to actual workers in any business, I would bet the TSA could be one-fiftieth of its current size if this was its role.
How’s that for limited government?
Actually, this is ALL about socialized (taxpayer) payment for transportation security so private industry doesn’t have to pay for it.  It’s also ALL about keeping American workers (public and private) out of unions.  And, it’s mostly ALL about FEAR.

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