An Intrusive, Ineffective, Unionized TSA?

Much has been written about the backlash against the TSA’s intrusive new screening methods. Law professor Jeff Rosen has argued that they violate the Fourth Amendment, since they are more invasive than alternative screening methods, but may be no more effective. Others have argued that the screening will kill more people than it saves from terrorist attacks, even if it ever prevents a terrorist attack, since it will result in angry travelers traveling by car rather than by airplane, resulting in hundreds of additional deaths annually, since fatalities are much higher on the road than in the air. (One scientist argues that the screenings will also lead to an increase in radiation-related deaths.)

Such screening methods are only as effective as the employees who use them, and lazy or inattentive employees can render any screening method useless.  The Obama administration is now poised to unionize the TSA, which would make it harder to remove lazy or inattentive employees, and harder to reassign employees as needed in responding to any attempted terror attacks.  The Washington Examiner, and John Fund of The Wall Street Journal, earlier criticized the administration’s support for unionization, which past TSA heads recognized would undermine public safety.

As John Fund notes, “if you think TSA is dysfunctional and unpopular now, wait until it unionizes. This month, the Federal Labor Relations Authority ruled that 50,000 TSA personnel will be allowed to vote on whether or not to join a union with full collective bargaining rights. The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union are already gearing up their campaigns to win over the screeners.”

As the Examiner notes:

[A]dapting to evolving security threats requires a level of workplace flexibility that is incompatible with rigid union workplaces. After a plot to blow up a dozen U.S.-bound airliners from Britain over the Atlantic was broken up in 2006, the TSA changed its procedures in 12 hours to deal with new concerns about liquid explosives. Unions make it notoriously difficult for managers to change job descriptions and procedures, so it’s hard to believe a unionized TSA would have sufficient flexibility to cope with constantly changing terrorist challenges.

In 2007, Congress, in legislation backed by then-Senator Obama, passed legislation enabling the TSA to unionize — a stance endorsed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who earlier claimed that “the system worked” when a terrorist nearly blew up a plan, only to be foiled by alert passengers, with no help from the TSA. (The terrorist was allowed on the plane despite being on a terror watch list, and then set fire to explosives.  To put out the fire, passengers had to violate TSA red tape like rules banning passengers from getting out of their seat during the last hour of a flight.) The Examiner says that “the TSA has yet to catch one terrorist.”

The TSA often fails to detect explosive ingredients and fake bombs in performance tests. A study found that the TSA is more than twice as likely to fail to detect a bomb as the private security firms it replaced. And TSA’s failure rate is three or four times as high as the few remaining private firms still allowed to handle airline security. In tests, TSA failed to detect fake bombs 60 percent of the time at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and 75 percent of the time in Los Angeles.  The Obama administration is also undermining railroad safety through pro-union favoritism.