The Real Reason the TSA Gets Expanded While More Important Needs Languish

Earlier today, I posted again on the subject of the inordinate amount of money and effort spent on the TSA (and its parent agency, the hapless Department of Homeland Security) while other far more important threats are left unaddressed.

The “creator” of the TSA, Rep. John Mica of Florida says,

As for keeping the American public safe, Mica says, “They’ve failed to actually detect any threat in 10 years.”… “The whole program has been hijacked by bureaucrats,”

“They need to get out of the screening business and back into security.  Most of the screening they do should be abandoned,” Mica said.  “I just don’t have a lot of faith at this point,” Mica said.

Entire article here.

I agree with Rep. Mica, but I am very pessimistic that the TSA will be dialed back and the money diverted to much more important threats. I’d like to explain why I believe this.

There are two reasons, both tied to politics.

  1. No politician wants a plane hijacked on their “watch,” lest an election opponent accuse them of being “soft on terror” or some such nonsense. 
  2. The mores of Washington, D.C. reward spending more money stupidly and do not reward spending less money or spending money in an rational manner.
Let’s start with the first reason.
It has been my experience (and, over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time on this) that “doing the right thing” comes in a far second to “getting reelected” especially among politicians on their second term and beyond. The seductions of D.C. are just too strong for most mortals to resist. They know that being a U.S. Senator (for example) is the best gig they will ever have. 
But it is worse than you might think. The culture of D.C. is foreign to the rest of the U.S. I’ve found, and others have written about, how after living a year or more as a politician in D.C. your language morphs and it is difficult to even carry on a conversation with a “normal” (non-D.C.) person.  Only in D.C. do people care — intensely — whether it is more important to be a deputy assistant administrator rather than an assistant deputy administrator (I once had this very conversation).  
Every human being wants to be liked and admired by the people around them. Over time, people “go native” in Washington, D.C. — they care much more about the opinions of the people who surround them in D.C. They care more about what the Washington Post says about them than their home district’s newspaper. 
Reason #2 is even worse: It is the revolving door between our politicians and lobbying — the ultimate special interest. Note: This is not a Republican or Democrat issue: They both do it.  Only the names change. Why do you think so few defeated senators and congresspeople ever move back to their home districts?  
What am I talking about? Since the topic is homeland security, consider the following:
America’s post-9/11 increase in homeland security efforts might make you feel safer, or maybe they leave you feeling violated and cramped. But it’s made many revolving-door lobbyists feel much richer…
The crater in lower Manhattan and the hole in the Pentagon spawned a nearly trillion-dollar homeland security operation, including a new Cabinet department, new congressional committees, and new local government jobs. A Homeland Security-Industrial Complex now towers alongside the Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower made famous in his 1960 farewell address.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was George W. Bush’s pick as director of homeland security until Congress created the Cabinet department, and then Ridge became the department’s first secretary. Ridge left DHS in 2005 but he never returned to Pennsylvania.
Now ensconced inside the Beltway, Ridge started a consulting firm, Ridge Global, populating the firm with his DHS colleagues. Homeland Security Chief of Staff J. Duncan Campbell and spokeswoman Michele Nix joined Ridge Global along with their colleagues Christopher Furlow and Susan Galen. Among other consulting work, this crew, brimming with the original Homeland Security public servants, helped Albania set up its homeland security apparatus. Ridge also joined the board of directors of Homeland Security contractor Deloitte, which has raked in a half-billion dollars in DHS deals.
Within months of leaving DHS, Ridge owned a million-dollar home in Chevy Chase…

Ridge’s deputy, Adm. James Loy, filled in for a spell as acting homeland security secretary. A few weeks later Loy, who had also served as the first head of the Transportation Security Administration (division of DHS), cashed out, joining the homeland-security practice of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm founded by former Defense Secretary William Cohen. Loy now sits on the board of directors of Lockheed Martin, the No. 1 recipient of Homeland Security contracts in 2010. Since the department’s founding in 2002, Lockheed has chalked up at least $2.4 billion in contracts.
Michael Chertoff ran DHS for the rest of the Bush administration. Then he got a gig at K Street giant Covington & Burling and started the Chertoff Group. One of his clients is Osi Systems, whose quarter-billion dollars in DHS contracts includes the TSA contract given to Osi subsidiary Rapiscan for the airport “nudie-scanners” that see through your clothes.
Chertoff is not registered as a lobbyist, but Rapiscan’s official lobbyists include veterans of the homeland-security revolving door. Rapiscan lobbyist Susan Carr is a former legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who chaired the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and championed funding for airport security. Scanner company AS&E was another TSA contractor, and its lobbyists include TSA alumni Chad Wolf and Tom Blank.
The first undersecretary of border and transportation security was former Rep. Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson now runs a law firm offering to “help businesses and individuals navigate the organizations and the complex legal and regulatory issues that are a part of Homeland Security.”
The entire article is here and I highly recommend it. “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” This is deeply engrained in the D.C. culture. Going against this culture quickly makes one a pariah. 

Last week, the New York Times wrote a favorable article about a politician who stated: 

“Do you want to know why nothing ever really gets done?” she said, referring to politicians. “It’s because there’s nothing in it for them. 

Getting communities and people ready for hurricanes is a lot of little projects, not billions for a single ‘solution’ (TSA nude machines). Putting incentives in place to diversify the location of critical infrastructure is small potatoes.  

We have no way of predicting whether a giant solar storm like the one in 1859 that would immediately send humanity back to the 1870′s is imminent. I don’t know how serious is the EMP attack threat from North Korea or Iran. I do know the probability is certainly not zero. The potential tragedy is we know what we need to do to “harden” the electric infrastrure and we know how to do it. 

So, instead of dealing with this huge threat in a rational manner, we spend ever-more money on the TSA to grope-search children and 80-year olds and install more and more nude machines. 

I hope that L.A. never sees a another hurricane, that Houston stays hurricane-free, and that neither a solar storm nor an EMP attack ever occurs. But if you agree with me that we should be spending money on addressing these real threats, putting pressure on your representatives and President Obama via letters, emails, and calls is the only influence that “we the people” can hope to have. Please consider making your thoughts known to those who represent us. 

Tomorrow I’ll get back to the usual topics of this blog. 

One thought on “The Real Reason the TSA Gets Expanded While More Important Needs Languish

  1. Thank you, Mike, for both parts of this. May your readership rise up and demand just a little more sense from our elected masters in D.C.