Flying the friendly skies with Frankenstein and his monster

After mourning the death of his loved ones, Victor Frankenstein, using chemistry, electricity and the latest technology, brings a dead body back to life. The frightened villagers reject the creature as a monster that then wreaks havoc. Frankenstein feels guilty for having created it. The monster vows revenge on Frankenstein and his family. They pursue each other across Europe, right to the end.

After the tragic loss of thousands of our loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 was signed into law. The ATSA authorized unprecedented security measures for virtually all forms of transportation, but primarily airports and ocean ports.

ATSA authorized two options for screening air travelers and luggage. The first model provides screening operations managed by all-federal personnel; the second model, the Screening Partnership Program, allows airports the option of using qualified private contractors — under federal standards, supervision, and oversight — instead of federal Transportation Security Administration employees.

Members of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (Victor Frankenstein) are responsible for the legislation that created the TSA (the Creature) that same year.

In the decade since its creation, TSA has grown from 16,500 employees in 2001 to more than 65,000 today, at a cost of nearly $57 billion. The Creature is larger than the Departments of Labor, Energy, Education, and Housing and Urban Development combined. Its mammoth Washington headquarters alone supports “3,986 administrative personnel earning on average $103,852 per year, plus another 9,656 administrative field staff, on top of the security officers who actually conduct the physical screening,” according to U.S. House Joint Majority Staff Report “A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform,” which was released last November.

But growth hasn’t created success. According to Richard Skinner, former Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, quoted in the report, “The ability of TSA screeners to stop prohibited items from being carried through the sterile areas of the airports fared no better than the performance of screeners prior to September 11, 2001.”

The House claims that TSA “has struggled to manage its massive field staff in an effective and efficient manner.”

The Government Accountability Office reported that “since the Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program’s inception, at least 17 known terrorists have flown on 24 different occasions, passing through security at eight SPOT airports.” Of the 2 billion airline passengers who passed through SPOT airports between May 2004 and August 2008, about 1,100 were arrested, none of whom were arrested on terrorism charges.

I thought of our local pilot (a villager) detained by TSA recently while walking instead of driving from his hangar to the terminal building; and of the open-ended security fence just past the runway at Grand Junction Regional Airport.

In the meantime, Frankenstein realizes that the Creature is out of control and must be restrained and reformed, as the story ... er ... I mean House report and follow up hearings continue to unfold. “TSA’s operations are outmoded ­— the primary threat is no longer hijacking, but explosives designed to take down an aircraft ... Today, TSA’s screening policies are based in theatrics. They are typical, bureaucratic responses to failed security policies meant to assuage the concerns of the traveling public ... The agency’s primary objectives should be setting security standards, overseeing security performance and analyzing intelligence, but it has become too focused on maintaining and growing its own bureaucracy.”

In December 2010, a union president in Montana (Igor, for you Mel Brooks fans) circulated an e-mail that read, “I have some very good news. AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) and TSA have agreed that the SPP program (allowing private contractors) will be abolished.”

What? Can they do that? According to the House report, TSA “Administrator (John) Pistole’s adoption of this standard is arbitrary and capricious and in contravention of the law.”

When Frankenstein, the 59-member Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, questioned Pistole about the SPP decision early last year, he responded simply: “I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time.”

After a long hard fight that included 22 deadline extensions, Frankenstein was able to get The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 signed into law, which includes major reform of TSA.

But will Frankenstein’s reformed TSA really be any better or will we simply end up with yet another, albeit different, out-of-control Creature?

I turned to CliffsNotes on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” for some insight. “Each half competes for attention from the other and for the chance to be the ruler of the other half. In the end, this competition reduces both ... to ruins.”

Oh dear. Good thing Shelley’s is just a work of fiction. Right?

Krystyn Hartman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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