Currently making the rounds of the TV networks is one Kip Hawley, former TSA Administrator from 2005 until January, 2009. He’s pushing his short new co-written book that complains about (what else?) the TSA. In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal he called airport screening “a national embarrassment” and further penned,
“In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying,” he continued in the essay, “we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.”
According to a Huffington Post online article, Hawley offers these suggestions for improvement:
“Allow small knives and other previously prohibited items on board so screeners can focus on finding dangerous explosives. Eliminate bag fees so that checkpoint lines will move more swiftly. And, encourage innovation among front-line checkpoint staff, the real security experts in Hawley’s estimation.”
Well, as one who has complained often and loudly about the inanities of confiscating tweezers while letting sharp ball-point pens through, his new ideas sure ring true with me. I have also strongly advocated selective psychological screening like the Israeli’s do, something now being embraced it seems. But am I the only one to feel peeved to hear the guy formerly responsible for the irritating mess now telling us, the humiliated and irritated flying public, how to fix it? And now he’s trying to make money with his little book while doing it. According to his Wikipedia bio page Mr. Hawley was in control, if you can call it that, well after the nation’s cockpit doors were armored, the pilots armed and air marshals deployed, so why the hell didn’t he fix some of this stuff himself before adding insult to injury by complaining to US about it? Talk about irritating.
In pondering how Mr. Hawley might rationalize his complaining I conclude that the problem is one that is pervasive throughout politics and bureaucracies. In a nutshell, it is that there is no political upside to taking on risk. Clearly from the way he interviews, Hawley is actually a common-sense kind of guy, but in this case that makes him also a disingenuous bureaucrat. He talks like he really wasn’t in charge at all. He talks like the TSA was in charge of him, and I think it was. Why didn’t he allow tweezers and penknives when he was in charge? I wish somebody had asked him that question. But I also suspect that we have too damn many bureaucrats in the loop. The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security and I can just imagine the memos going up the ladder: “We want to allow people to take knives and brass knuckles on board planes.” Now where’s the bureaucratic upside to saying “yes” to that? Public gratitude? Nope. But the downside is clear.
For further insight there is this, under “Criticism”, from Mr. Hawley’s Wikipedia bio:
As head of the TSA, Hawley has been a focal point for public criticism relating to what many consider intrusive and ineffective security measures now undertaken at American airports. In September 2006, in response to the new policies limiting the amounts of liquids and gels that passengers could carry on airplanes, Milwaukee resident Ryan Bird wrote “Kip Hawley is an Idiot” on a plastic bag given to passengers by airport security for those substances. As a result he claims he was detained and told that the First Amendment did not apply to security checkpoints.
In April, 2007, Mr. Hawley agreed to a partially published interview conducted by Bruce Schneier regarding TSA policies and practices. Later, Schneier demonstrated the complete ineffectiveness of TSA measures by bringing a variety of dangerous objects through security and onto planes. Objects included box cutters and plastic “beer belly” filled with unexamined liquid.
Mr. Hawley responded with the following admission:
“Clever terrorists can use innovative ways to exploit vulnerabilities. But don’t forget that most bombers are not, in fact, clever. Living bomb-makers are usually clever, but the person agreeing to carry it may not be super smart. Even if “all” we do is stop dumb terrorists, we are reducing risk.”
I have long railed at the excessive size of government bureaucracy and this is a perfect example. Like the absurd Directorate of National Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security is an expensive appendage that is worse than useless, it is a hinderance to efficiency. And yet, once created, these things take on a life of their own. It was that way in Johnathan Swift’s time and it still is.
How many bureaucrats does it take to invent a color-coded Security Advisory System that never changes color? Answer: How many bureaucrats does the DHS have?
I am waiting to see if Mitt Romney will have the political courage to specifically name the parts of government he would cut if he is elected. If he has any substance at all he will have the DHS and the DNI on the list. It would sure make me like him better. Any bets that he will?