March 20 2017
We’ve highlighted that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has programs which aren’t working and staff who have engaged in behaviors which put travelers at risk. Reform may be coming though as the Trump Administration is taking an axe to the TSA by proposing to cut several post-9/11 programs.
In the budget blueprint released late last week, the Trump Administration plans to eliminate and reduce “unauthorized and underperforming programs administered by [the Transportation Security Administration] TSA in order to strengthen screening at airport security checkpoints.”
This includes reducing the Visible Intermodel Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, in which teams of agents (often with bomb-sniffing dogs) sweep train stations and ports around airports. Intended to create a highly visible police presence, cutting VIPR would save about $57 million.
The second program on the chopping block is the controversial Behavior Detection Officer program. Agents are trained to look at "suspicious" behaviors and hold aside shady individuals they suspect may be up to something wrong. We reported about this program last year, because official records found that it had not been scientifically validated although the TSA continues to utilize the program. Not everyone agrees with ending this program including John S. Pistole, the former FBI deputy director who headed the TSA from 2010-14:
“They may see it as a luxury. I would argue that it’s another good layer of security,” Pistole said last week. “They identify a number of people who are criminals, either drug smugglers or money smugglers, even a couple of human traffickers. They haven’t detected any terrorists because, to our knowledge, no bomb-totting terrorists have tried to get on a plane.”
In addition, the budget eliminates TSA grants to states and local governments which patrol airports, because that should already be a priority for state and local law enforcement. They shouldn’t need the extra dollars to do what they are already doing. The goal is to reassign all of the TSA personnel in these other programs to front-line security operations.
The TSA cuts would amount to $80 million in savings annually. The budget recommends shifting the burden of paying for TSA programs away from the taxpayers who don’t directly benefit from the programs to passengers. Therefore, the Administration is proposing a $1 increase in the 9/11 Passenger Security Fee, which is currently $5.60 per one-way flight. Travel experts are already clamoring that passengers will be livid by the travel tax increase. The goal is for 75 percent of the cost of TSA aviation security operations to be covered by the passenger security fee, which is projected to generate $40 billion over the first decade.
Eliminating underperforming programs that lack evidence of effectiveness or may have outlived their usefulness is a positive step for the TSA. This agency has been plagued by scandals and evidence that it’s failed at its most basic function of keeping passengers who fly safe. If ending these programs and moving personnel to frontline operations increases security and speeds up the security process, this budget recommendation will prove to be a good step. Furthermore, it’s responsible to shift the cost burden of the TSA from the American taxpayer to those who utilize the services most.
We’ll see if Congress takes up these recommendations in their budget process, but this is another signal that the Trump Administration is changing up how things are done in Washington.