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The Shortfalls of the Transportation Security Administration

Free «The Shortfalls of the Transportation Security Administration» Essay Sample


The USA has always been at the forefront in the fight against terrorism and other forms of insecurity. In fact, the nation’s efforts to combat terrorism are not just limited to its borders but also involve various military activities overseas. However, the involvement of the US in the fight against terrorism has made it a major target of terrorist groups. For this reason, the prevention of terrorism and enhancement of security is one of the five main missions of the nation’s homeland security. In a bid to keep up with the ever-evolving terrorist groups, the Department of Homeland Security has been reviewing its strategies in combating terrorism. In 2001, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) was formed under the Department of Homeland Security. The TSA was assigned the responsibility of watching over the nation’s transportation system. While the TSA has been vigilant to ensure that the traveling public is protected, it has some shortfalls that have left the transportation system exposed to terrorist attacks. This paper examines the shortfalls that have bedeviled the TSA. In addition, the paper offers recommendations on the steps that should be taken to make the needed improvements.

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Discussion and Analysis

The TSA has been widely criticized for failure to deliver with the public calling for its abolishment (Fischer, Halibozek, & Walters, 2012). The public’s request that the TSA should be abolished was a result of a series of complaints which indicated that many people are dissatisfied with the agency’s activities. The public has constantly expressed its concern over the large sums of money the TSA has spent. Most of the US citizens are of the opinion that the TSA accomplishments do not match the large sums of money that the agency has spent on an annual basis.

The Department of Homeland Security quickly set up the TSA in September 2001 after a terrorist attack. The latter led to a conclusion the US security agencies were ineffective in ensuring the security of the country. Whereas the TSA was thought to be the solution, especially in guarding the transportation system, it is currently facing the same criticism.

One of the shortfalls of the TSA that the public has been quick to point out is the bureaucracy in the security agency. It requires large quantity of security officers to run the entire transportation system; therefore, it becomes a burden when the number of staff members becomes too high. Over the years, the TSA staff has expanded and now exceeds the 65,000 mark. The large number of employees has rendered the TSA ineffective.

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In its turn, the problem of bureaucracy has led to the issue of employee misconduct within the TSA. With the large numbers of workers, their supervision has proven to be a challenge. For this reason, various cases of misconduct involving TSA employees have been reported in different parts of the country. Many passengers have presented complaints of cases where the TSA officers mistreat people as they take passengers through screening. It is believed that some of the TSA officers have gone as far as touching the genitals of passengers, which the latter consider sexual harassment. Moreover, children have also not been spared in the widespread harassment. Concerns have also been raised as to whether the TSA officers target explosive devices and weapons or passengers’ belongings since various cases of TSA officers stealing have been reported. The complaints that have been registered relating to employee misconduct are not just false accusations. There are reports that 28 TSA officers were fired while 15 others were suspended after it was confirmed that they did not screen passengers for explosive devices and weapons (Department of Homeland Security, 2008).

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Theft of passengers’ luggage is one of the chronic problems facing the TSA. Theft cases started to be reported as soon as the TSA was implemented. While the TSA has been receiving theft complaints from passengers over the years, the problem continues. This persistence has given passengers the impression that the TSA is not committed to solving the issue. For instance, 20,016 theft cases were reported from 2010 to 2012 (Painter, 2013). Pythias Brown, a former agent of the TSA, confirmed the problem of theft in 2012. He even confessed that he had personally stolen passengers’ items valued at over $800,000 (Jenkins, 2012). The agency has always shown reluctance to solve the problem of theft because it has only made a few follow-ups on theft cases. Most of the agency’s employees have gone scot-free because efforts have not been made to confirm their involvement in theft scandals. The TSA has also done very little to compensate passengers who have been victims of theft. For instance, it was reported that passengers’ property valued at $300,000 was either damaged or stolen in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport between the year 2011 and 2012 (Jenkins, 2012). Out of this huge loss, the TSA only compensated $35,000 (Jenkins, 2012).

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Laxity among the TSA agents is another shortfall of the agency. The TSA has placed significant emphasis on the screening and frisking of passengers. However, it is a slow process and, therefore, the TSA officers have to be alert to save on time given many people travel on a daily basis. Just as the TSA officers have been accused of sleeping on their jobs, they have also been slow in executing their duties. Consequently, many passengers end up being delayed as they wait in long queues. The problem of laxity among the TSA agents was highlighted during the President Obama’s inauguration in 2009 (Painter, 2013). It was reported that people started making their way into the viewing area before screening points were put up. The screening process also turned out to be very slow until many ticket holders missed the event. Such scenarios are unacceptable owing to the fact that the TSA is adequately staffed and, hence, capable of handling large numbers of passengers as long as this laxity stops.

The effectiveness of security screening processes by the TSA is also questionable because it is believed that the agency has not been thorough while performing this process. The use of frisking and physical searches by the TSA officers is believed to be ineffective. Many passengers have complained about this system, saying that the TSA officers target passengers’ property instead of unwanted gadgets and substances. For this reason, many passengers carrying illegal substances and items have been able to pass through security screening successfully. Various tests have also been conducted to assess the effectiveness of the TSA. The results of these tests have indicated that the TSA is indeed ineffective. This year, the Homeland Security Inspector General carried out an investigation during which undercover investigators managed to go through 95% of the security checkpoints under investigation. A report from the investigation sparked off accusations that the TSA was fooling the public. Some TSA officers have also been accused of allowing passengers to pass without being screened. Such incidents were reported at Honolulu Airport in 2011 where 36 officers were fired (Painter, 2013).

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The TSA introduced full body scanners, especially in airports, to step up screening of passengers. The agency settled for the millimeter wave scanners and the backscatter X-ray scanners. Whereas the TSA believes that the scanner goes a long way in making screening more effective, concerns have been raised about the infringement of privacy and health risks that come with the use of the scanners. As far as privacy is concerned, those oppose to the use of the scanners have labeled the latter as naked scanners. Although the TSA has defended itself by saying that there is no breach of privacy involved, there have been confirmed reports of leaked passengers’ images. These cases contradict the TSA’s claims that the scanners could not save passengers’ images. Passengers are also concerned about the level of radiation involved. Although the TSA has reported that the quantity of radiation emitted is low, the effects are yet to be determined.

Loss of public confidence in the TSA is another serious shortfall facing the agency. The US government through its various security apparatus has been working round the clock to ensure that the country’s citizenry feels protected. It should be noted that the US has for a long time been targeted by terrorists who have always aimed at cultivating fear among the people. For instance, the 2001 terrorist attack created fear among the people leading to the creation of the TSA. The public lost faith in the country’s security apparatus for failing to prevent the attack. Several years later, the TSA, which was expected to provide the solution, has been put in the spotlight for failing to deliver. The public has lost confidence in the agency complaining that it is unnecessarily costly to the nation. The public’s diminishing confidence in the TSA is attributed to the fact that the agency has exhibited incompetence. In fact, in 2012 a survey carried out by the Frequent Business Traveler Organization revealed that only 1% of those who fly frequently confirmed that they had full confidence in the TSA (Painter, 2013).

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The fact that the public has lost confidence in the TSA makes it necessary for the agency to make improvements. For instance, the TSA agents and scanners still insist on frisking passengers and opening their bags while looking for explosive devices despite the existence of a variety of technological equipment that could be used instead (Spychalski, 2011). Thus, more emphasis should be placed on the use of technology that can verify the passengers’ identification automatically, for instance, biometric identification. Keeping in mind that terrorists and other criminals in general have become more sophisticated, the TSA has to step up. For the TSA to be able to fight terrorists, it should always be a step ahead. Modern equipment that has the capacity to scan retinas of the eyes and identify fingerprints is needed in the TSA. While the acquisition and installation of such equipment will be expensive, it is worth it because it will go a long way to improve security in the transportation system.

The use of full body scanners came about as the TSA embarked on the adoption of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT). The implementation was done purposefully to make the transportation system more secure; thus, people are anxious about the effects of full body scanners on people’s health as well as their privacy. These concerns have mainly been directed to the backscatter X-ray scanners. However, the millimeter wave scanners are relatively better because they have been designed in a way that the passengers’ privacy is protected (Lee & Jacobson, 2012). These scanners do not produce images that are passenger specific but simply detect metallic and non-metallic items placed under the clothes by displaying a generic outline. This system guarantees passengers’ privacy because generic outlines are similar for every scan conducted. The millimeter wave scanner is also not a health hazard because there are no dangerous radiations involved. The TSA should listen to the public’s concerns and do away with the backscatter X-ray scanners. The latter should be instead replaced by millimeter wave scanners used in many airports around the country.

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Furthermore, the TSA has to work on improving the quality and morale of its employees for the agency’s operations to improve. There have been constant complaints about the workers discharging their duties. In fact, the employees have been accused of sleeping on their job. Many passengers have been delayed when there are large numbers of people traveling because of lengthy and slow procedures. The TSA should move with speed to ensure that workers are adequately motivated. The lack of motivation among the employees has also been blamed to have fueled their involvement in the theft of passengers’ luggage. As far as the quality of staff members is concerned, the TSA should make sure that employees are recruited based on their qualifications. The agency should also put its employees through regular in-service training to ascertain that workers are up to date with the changing trends in terrorism.

Moreover, the TSA should work on winning back the support of the public (Spychalski, 2011). Members of the public have presented numerous complaints concerning the way of the TSA’s operation. However, the agency lacks a uniform process that can be applied in receiving complaints from every part of the country. The TSA should come up with a policy to guide the process of receiving complaints so that they can be analyzed with ease. It should be noted that having in place an organized system would make implementation easy as well. The TSA should also update the public on the progress that it makes in addressing concerns raised by passengers. Such policy will show the public that the agency is indeed committed to ensure that passengers are safe as they travel. The ultimate effect is that the public will gain confidence in the TSA once again.

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Finally, the TSA should consider giving the private sector a central role in providing security in the transportation system. As the TSA has expanded over the years, the bureaucracy and inefficiency have set in. Currently, the large size of its staff overwhelms the TSA, hence making supervision challenging for the agency. To eliminate inefficiency in its operation, the TSA should contract private companies that are ready to invest in security. This strategy will ensure that contracts are awarded to companies that deliver. However, the TSA should only allow private organizations to operate in specific areas of the transportation system to ascertain that as much as private companies are involved, the TSA will remain in control. It, in turn, will ensure the contracted companies are kept in check.


Security has become a thorny issue in the modern world because of increased cases of insecurity and terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security established the TSA to provide security in the transportation system. However, the TSA has exhibited various shortfalls in the provision of security. Concerns have been raised about the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the agency. The public has lately leveled accusations that the TSA’s expansion has led to the bureaucracy which has rendered the agency inefficient. The employees have also been accused of stealing from passengers during security screening. While these complaints have been confirmed to be true, the agency can work on making improvements. Therefore, not everything is lost as far as the shortfalls of the TSA are concerned. The agency has to work on its relationship with the public to regain the support of the people.

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