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Airport Security: Time for a New Model

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Publication Date: January 2006

Publisher(s): Reason Foundation

Author(s): Robert W. Jr. Poole

Topic: Government (Internal security)
Transportation (Air transport)

Type: Report


The legislation that created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the current approach to aviation security, though well-intentioned, was poorly thought out and is fundamentally flawed. It mandated costly changes in some aspects of aviation security, without any analysis of relative risks, costs, or benefits. There are three basic flaws in the current model. First, the law presumes that all air travelers are equally likely to be a threat, and mandates equal attention (and spending) on each--which is very wasteful of scarce security resources. Second, the TSA operates in a highly centralized manner, which is poorly matched to the wide variation in sizes and types of passenger airports. And third, the law puts the TSA in the conflicting position of being both the airport security policymaker/regulator and the provider of some (but not all) airport security services. This report calls for three reforms to address the three fundamental flaws in the current approach. First, to remove the inherent conflict of interest, the TSA should be phased out of performing airport screening services. Instead, its role should become purely policymaking and regulatory (and better balanced among all transportation modes). Second, the screening functions should be devolved to each individual airport, under TSA oversight. And third, screening and other airport security functions should be redesigned along risk-based lines, to better target resources on dangerous people rather than dangerous objects.