The Transportation Security Administration is taking its contentious Secure Flight passenger screening program back to the drawing board, officials told Congress Thursday.
Under the program, which will surely return someday, TSA will take over from the airlines the process of matching air passenger names to government watchlists.
However, after spending $150 million and years testing the program, government auditors found (PDF) that it still can’t properly match names to watchlists, protect the privacy of air passengers or provide a workable method for redress, that is, resolving mistakes. In addition, the program was found to be vulnerable to abuse both from employees and outsiders gaining unauthorized access to the system.
And Rep. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made a fool of himself, saying that the Government Accountability Office shouldn’t delay the program.
“I’m not really pleased,” Stevens said. “They ought to stand back and give advice.”
Excuse me, Mr. Bridge to Nowhere, but that’s what GAO does! They review government programs and give advice and recommendations. Sometimes the department agrees with the recommendations, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve read plenty of GAO reports, and apparently I’ve read far more of them than Rep. Stevens.
Secure Flight has been plagued with operational problems from the outset, and TSA has largely been unable to resolve them. You can bet, though, that the program will come back, as it’s been mandated by Congress that TSA take over passenger screening to government watchlists. Just as soon as they can figure out how to operate a computer.
This is yet another example of how government should just leave well enough alone. Left to their own devices, airlines would — on their own — develop much better security programs that actually work. They would be compelled to do so by market forces. Any airline which didn’t would quickly go out of business, either from lack of customers or from all of their planes being blown out of the sky. It’s government regulation which caused the security problems we now face; nobody can seriously think that more government programs will fix them.