Everytime my little brother flies he’s pulled aside and subject to intrusive searches because he has an insulin pump. With a metal hip, my Grandfather was subject to the same. Everytime you fly for vacation, study abroad, or any other reason, you roll the dice on whether or not a stranger will pat you down or look at your naked body through a scanner. Many correctly criticize the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) for long lines, body searches, body scans and even detentions. Abolishing the TSA to allow for privatization would improve many of these problems.
The TSA’s mission is to “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” However, in tests by the Department of Homeland Security and other private screeners, they often fail to protect. At worst, they failed 67 out of 70 times to detect banned items going through security, including fake explosives. At LAX they received a 75-percent failure rate and a 60-percent failure rate at O’Hare. In the private sector, consumers would be outraged at such poor security and switch to an airline that has better security guarantees until the company either improved its product or went bankrupt.
To be clear, I don’t blame individual TSA agents but rather the agency itself for these failures. Guaranteed funding shields the TSA from both criticism and market pressure. The agency often receives increases in funding unrelated to their performance and continues to fail when put to the test. This suggests that their lack of accomplishment isn’t an issue of inadequate funds, but rather is a result of structural problem that persist due to a lack of accountability. Conversely, private companies, not propped up by government funds, have an incentive to keep people and their privacy safe. No one will ride on an airline that does otherwise. If you compare the U.S. with other countries like Canada you will see that private security is far more cost effective and efficient.
Privatization would not only create a better product, but is also more moral. Consumers’ voices would be amplified in such a system as airlines compete to offer the safest and most expedient service. When a flier travels they and the airline agree upon a given price in exchange for the service of a flight. Individuals could choose a safer process with intrusive searches or a different airline. As it stands, the TSA has a compulsory monopoly that demands a violation of privacy.
Rather than running such an agency, the proper role for the government should be to enforce the laws and contracts in the industry. When violence happens in a privatized system, the perpetrators are subject to laws and the agency to the people whose safety they endangered. As private entities they would also be subject to lawsuits if they endanger people or violate their terms and conditions.
Even as a publically funded agency now, the TSA has very little government oversight. As government officials, TSA agents are shielded to some extent from civil lawsuits when they cross a line. There are instances of TSA agents being fired for inappropriate contact with passengers but as government employees it is more difficult to hold them accountable.
For privatization to be possible and happen in a free market fashion, a few things must be considered. The government can’t choose a successor to fill the void; that would result in corporatism and eliminate many of the characteristics of a free market. There must be more than one company to allow for the competition that creates accountability.
Privatization of the TSA would make a more efficient and just system. Even after the agency’s fragility was put on display during the shutdown, any legislative solution would be difficult to implement. Most Democrats and even many moderate Republicans have little incentive to pursue such a legislative goal. One solution could come in the form of a compromise in which the TSA’s role, rather than the security, is the screener and certifier of private security. This runs the risk of corporatism but if done right could be a step towards a truly free market in the air travel industry.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.