Why Bureaucracies Fail – TSA

TSA Passenger Screening

TSA Passenger Screening (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So often the best of intentions and initiatives of a new organization become entangled in the reality of their own size and lack of accountability. I’ve written about the TSA before and it’s myriad of abuses as well as it’s failure to carry on it’s mission. Of course it’s easy for me to sit back and criticize as an arm-chair quarter back. The problems though are recognizable by many within and without and in order for this organization to be successful it must assess the value of criticism and evolve into a working productive protective organization.

I think perhaps no one is better qualified to assess the strengths and weakness in carrying out its mission than former head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley,  His article in Why Airport Security Is Broken — And How To Fix It describes the problems and possible remedies. I recommend reading it, however here are a few highlights.

You know the TSA. We’re the ones who make you take off your shoes before padding through a metal detector in your socks. We make you throw out your water bottles. We’re on the evening news when someone’s grandma gets patted down or a child’s toy gets confiscated as a security risk.

More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect.  If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably hate us.

The crux of the problem, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. TSA’s job is to manage risk, not to enforce regulations.

There is a way out of this mess , here are five specific ideas for reform.

1. No more banned items: Aside from obvious weapons capable of fast, multiple killings—such as guns, toxins and explosive devices—it is time to end the TSA’s use of well-trained security officers as kindergarten teachers to millions of passengers a day.

2. Allow all liquids: Simple checkpoint signage, a small software update and some traffic management are all that stand between you and bringing all your liquids on every U.S. flight.

3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable: No security agency on earth has the experience and pattern-recognition skills of TSA officers. TSA’s leaders must be prepared to support initiative even when officers make mistakes. Currently, independence on the ground is more likely to lead to discipline than reward.

4. Eliminate baggage fees: Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees. The airlines had their reasons for implementing these fees, but the result has been a checkpoint nightmare.

5. Randomize security: Predictability is deadly. Banned-item lists, rigid protocols—if terrorists know what to expect at the airport, they have a greater chance of evading our system. To be effective, airport security needs to embrace flexibility and risk management—principles that it is difficult for both the bureaucracy and the public to accept. In America, any successful attack—no matter how small—is likely to lead to a series of public recriminations and witch hunts. But security is a series of trade-offs.

If Americans are ready to embrace risk, it is time to strike a new balance.

Transportation Security Administration officer...

Transportation Security Administration officers (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)