David R. Henderson  

David Friedman on TSA

Macroeconomics, Circa 1970... Caplan-Miller in the WSJ...

David Friedman asks how we can trust TSA when it has shown itself untrustworthy. He gives two examples:

To take the earliest and most striking example, the TSA used to, for all I know still does, interpret the rule against knives to cover the inch long nail files sometimes built into nail clippers, with the result that anyone who happened to have a nail clipper with him and did not want to trash it was required to let them break off the file. To take a long continued example, the TSA insists that its agents be able to search our luggage but has failed to take the most elementary precaution to keep them from pilfering valuables--including in the note enclosed in searched luggage a number identifying the agent who searched it. In these ways and others, the organization has demonstrated that its concern, insofar as an organization can be said to have concerns, is with something other than the welfare of the people it claims to protect.

And, for the latest example, the TSA initially insisted that the new search requirements applied to pilots as well as passengers. Only after someone pointed out to them that a pilot who wanted to crash the plane he was flying didn't need explosives to do it--and, more important, after it became clear that enough pilots were unwilling to go along with the requirement to provide, at the least, a very serious public relations problem--did they reverse that part of their policy. The implication is either an organizational IQ at the idiot level or, more plausibly, an organization more concerned with image than substance.

And then there are the individual pieces of evidence on trust, such as this case where the TSA failed to follow its own rules and, this video alleges, punished a woman who wanted it to follow its rules: the TSA made her miss the flight.

I pointed out in a talk on C-SPAN in late 2001 that one should be skeptical of government running airline security when that same government still requires that flight attendants show you how to fasten a seat belt.

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CATEGORIES: Regulation

COMMENTS (2 to date)
Hyena writes:

When I still worked for the Census Bureau, we would make jokes about the TSA.

I once was waved through security by showing my DOC badge; I was hoping they'd just accept it rather than make me dig out my other ID, turns out they just let me walk straight through.

I could have blown up a plane. I mean, really, I had two large bottles of shampoo and non-regulation toothpaste in my carry on.

rpl writes:

David, I agree with most of what you say, but I think you should be more mindful of the distinction between aviation security and aviation safety. In my opinion as a private pilot, the FAA does a commendable job with aviation safety.

Even the seatbelt briefing you deride makes some sense if you've been around a lot of different kinds of aircraft. Although modern airliners all use the standard lift-buckle seatbelt, general aviation aircraft use a variety of seatbelt designs, some of them rather confusing. The retrofitted shoulder belts in older Cessna 152/172/182's come to mind, as do any belts that use a four- or five-point harness. I suppose the FAA could have included an exception from the briefing for "standard" seatbelt designs, but to what end? You'd still have to give a briefing on emergency exits, so throwing the seatbelts in for good measure costs nothing and heads off any possible confusion.

In general, when you encounter something puzzling in aviation regulations, you can usually explain it by keeping in mind that not everybody who flies flies in airplanes, and not everybody who flies in airplanes flies in the same ones you are familiar with.

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