Getting security right is a challenge for the best of us. But when you put security in the hands of government, getting it right is a virtually insurmountable obstacle. Here are a few ways government made you less secure and wasted your money over the last couple of weeks.
At Orlando (Fla.) International Airport, the Transportation Security Administration disposed of hundreds of “sensitive security information” documents by tossing them in the trash. Without shredding, burning or anything. Some of the documents were described as “excellent . . . for terrorists planning an attack.” A dumpster-diving teenager found them and turned them in to police.
And at O’Hare International Airport near Chicago, Ill., an ongoing investigation by CBS affiliate WBBM-TV found 47 “more” airport ID badges missing. The report says the station has discovered a total of 3,807 missing badges, that employees who complained about the missing badges were fired, that airport employees are not searched when entering the facility, and that some people “piggyback” or follow another employee into secured areas without swiping their ID badges.
Down on the border, Mexican officials are upset that a 2½ mile section of border fence in New Mexico was accidentally built on the Mexico side of the border due to surveying errors. Mexico wants the fencing removed from its territory “as quickly as possible,” which will cost at least $3 million.
Back inside the Beltway, Pentagon officials shut down 1,500 computers serving the Office of the Secretary of Defense after discovering a successful penetration into the office’s unclassified e-mail system. Unlike his underlings, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is unaffected, since as he says, “I don’t do e-mail. I’m a very low-tech person.” (Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has also said he doesn’t use e-mail.)
But would we be any better off if government could somehow be more effective and efficient? Likely not. The White House Office of Management and Budget published its annual Program Assessment Ratings Tool which measures the effectiveness and efficiency of some 1,000 federal programs. And Congress is going to spend some $1 trillion of discretionary spending on programs which aren’t even moderately effective. “The main activity these programs are really efficient at is spending your money in new and interesting ways on things they shouldn’t be spending your money on in the first place,” says Cato Institute director of budget studies Stephen Slivinski. “Slapping the ‘efficiency’ label on certain federal programs is a bit like putting lipstick on a pig.”