Yes, we should abolish the TSA and replace it with private airport security companies. These companies should be strictly bound by the rule of law. There should be a transparent and streamlined complaint and abuse process available to airline passengers. Security firms should be kept on their toes. Unlike huge government bureaucracies, private companies would be held more accountable to the public.
It’s an article of faith, not reason, that private companies can do better than a government agency, especially an agency like the TSA. Let’s take a look at quality, economy, accountability and “streamlining” or efficency:
Quality. One of the major complaints against the TSA is that fields an army of low-paid, poorly-educated agents to do its work. There is no magic by which a private company, which needs to make a profit, will hire better employees than the TSA. Since they’ll need to pay even lower salaries than the TSA, they’ll probably hire even less-qualified, less educated-employees.
Economy. A key issue with our huge airline security structure is that we need it to follow the same procedures everywhere, otherwise terrorists will board airplanes at the weakest airport in the system. In order to coordinate hundreds of private contractors, the TSA will still have to exist as a rule-making body. But, instead of transmitting those rules directly from TSA headquarters to agents in the field, the TSA will have to transmit those rules to to every contractor. Each contractor will need to be educated by the TSA, and inspected by the TSA. So we’ll have a large TSA bureaucracy checking up on the private contractors at each airport. I don’t see how this will be much cheaper than the system we have.
Efficency. It’s not only more expensive to transmit rules and procedures from a central bureaucracy to hundreds of independent contractors, it’s also less efficient. As it stands now, the TSA has a hell of a time educating its large, low-paid workforce to apply its baroque rules uniformly. Imagine the patchwork hodgepodge that will result when the TSA tries to get a hundred different organizations to apply its ever-changing standards with some modicum of consistency.
Accountability. Local contractors will be accountable to the entity that hires them, and these entities may well be less accountable than Homeland Security. In large urban areas, for example, many airports are under control of the patronage machines of city government. It’s likely that contracts will be sweetheart deals used to reward friends of the machine, which is a road to less accountability, not more, since there’s almost no chance that the machine favorite will lose the contract over anything but a regime change.
Privatizing is no silver bullet to the real problems at the TSA. The stupidity of the rules and mission of the TSA will still be around no matter if we use government employees or private employees to implement them, and it’s likely that we’d pay more to get less under a privatization scheme. That’s unless ED is using “private contractor” as a code-word for “lax oversight”. If so, we’d have an even bigger problem on our hands if we followed his prescription.