Leave it to the TSA to shake a blogger out of his doldrums…..
Ok CarryingOn fans if you’re still out there, I’d like to apologize for not being very active over the past few months. Chalk it off to a bunch of things we won’t go into here, but after observing the recent statements and actions of the TSA, even the Rip Van Winkle of bloggers would be stirred to life!!
It all started when I read that the sequestration forced budget cuts were going to cause chaos in air travel. It seems as if a 4% budget cut would result in everything from forced flight cancellations to reduce the workload on ATC staff, to dramatically longer security lines with a less secure environment to boot, and a quadrupling of the time it takes to clear customs at some of our bigger international gateways.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA Chief John Pistole were the ringleaders of a clear effort that used hyperbole to create panic among the masses who use the air transportation system on a regular or irregular basis. They were quickly joined by a chorus of industry insiders and pundits who accepted their predicted outcomes without even the slightest pushback, and then decried the impact on the travel industry.
In fact, in the days after the sequestration started, Napolitano suggested that the lines had already begun to build (this despite the fact that not one screener has been let go, since the law requires that federal workers must be given 30 days notice before a furlough, but we digress from the chaos).
It’s all political theatre designed to scare us into thinking that what amounts to a rather insignificant budget cut, would mean the end of air travel as we know it.
We’ve written a few times about the TSA and like tracking them because of their entertainment factor (http://bit.ly/YxteVQ),
but for those of you who might not scrutinize them as closely as CarryingOn, here are a few of data points to consider:
• The TSA now employs 62,000 people, 47,000 of which are screeners, and has an annual budget of $8Billion.
• In 2007 some 680 million flyers were screened by what were then 44,000 screeners, but in 2011 only 640 million of us took to the skies, yet there were 47,000 screeners.
If you’re keeping score on that one, a 6.2% reduction in the number of people being screened seemed to require a 6.8% increase in the number of screeners. Now I don’t claim to be a TSA staffing specialist or to know all the complexities of what the TSA does, but I did do a two year stretch at LGA Airport a few years back, when the airline was still responsible for the screening checkpoint (we hired sub-contractors), and I seem to remember that if we had less people coming through the place, we needed less people to handle them. Who knows, maybe the shoes in the bin part causes you to need more people.
The TSA has also said that the only way to manage the required cuts is by reducing staff. Obviously that’s one way to do this, but surely not the only way. Maybe they can cut something else. Like what you ask? To answer that, it’s time for some more TSA fun facts, these provided by a joint report by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Committee on Oversight of Government Reform, which showed that among other things:
• The TSA has a warehouse in Dallas, Texas, where 5,700 pieces of unused security equipment sit in storage. The dormant equipment is worth $184 million.
• This equipment storage cost taxpayers another $23 million in depreciation, because nearly all of the 472 carry-on baggage screening machines in the warehouse have been sitting there unused for over nine months.
• The agency spends another $3.5 million every year just to lease and manage this warehouse.
In addition, under the recently renewed labor agreement, TSA employees will see their uniform allowances nearly double to $446 per year (by comparison, a combat Marine Lieutenant receives a one-time uniform allowance of $400). The cost of the increase in TSA uniform allowance is an estimated $9.63 million annually.
If we total this stuff up you could lop $220 million off the budget, which represents close to 3/4th of the required cuts, and not one TSA head was touched in the process! And I’m guessing they could find another $100 million to get to the required 4% reduction without too much difficulty.
But I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on the TSA because they are relaxing the restriction against carrying pocket knives, billiard cues, and a host of other items that make absolutely no sense being onboard.
So while it might take more time to get through security, once onboard at least I can go back to my favorite thing to do on a long transcon flight, whittling wood. I can see it now…..”Hey, look there’s Minnesota Fats in 32C . I’m going over and introduce myself and see if I can trade him my wood carving of Janet Napolitano’s head in return for some tips on how to play a better game of 9 Ball.”