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There's a Decent Chance Congress is Just Trolling Us with Stupid TSA Ideas

January 17, 2014 at 4:26 PM | by | ()

The Jaunted policy on travel politics is very straightforward: there is nothing so broken about the experience of getting from one airport to another - whether it be picking a seat or paying for baggage or going through security or even taking off - that Congress can't make it worse.

TSA, for example, is a disaster in hundreds of ways significant and incidental. But give an elected official a chance to address even the smallest of the agency's problems, and they're bound without fail to come up with legislation that falls somewhere in between useless meddling and genuine damage. We actually had to check today's story multiple times before we could convince ourselves it wasn't a parody.

Lawmakers can't help it. Airport security is really complicated and making it better requires choosing between the lesser of a bunch of evils. The core complaint about TSA is that security officials have to treat every traveler like a potential terrorist. So aged grandparents and little babies end up getting frisked. There are two obvious solutions: keep screening everyone the same way, except dial back security on the assumption that no one is a potential terrorist, or start differentiating between travelers, with different levels of scrutiny for different people.

Door #1 is a non-starter. Lawmakers and analysts are happy to grandstand about how TSA hasn't stopped a single terror attack. But no one is going to gut the post-9/11 setup because no one wants to get tagged when the next bomber slips through.

Door #2 could be done, but it would be tricky. It would require a public debate over profiling - and, more to the point - it would require building up TSA instead of tearing it down. Good people would have to be hired and paid and trained to do actual threat assessments of actual people. If you just change the rules without hiring better people you get predictably disastrous results (we write "predictably" because we actually, literally predicted how TSA's "behavioral profiling without behavioral profilers" experiment would go). In any case, TSA is so unpopular that politicians would rather attack it than fund it.

All of which brings us to this week's gem of a story.

Virginia Congressman Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) was taking a trip to Las Vegas, and he watched how TSA agents were interacting with the public. Agents were issuing "barked orders" to take off clothing, and move into different lines, and assume various positions for screening. He thinks that sucks, and he's got a solution.

He's going to make TSA agents say "please." He's actually drafting legislation that increases the amount of training they get in being polite. The problem is not that America has a security regime that forces travelers to strip, and shuffle, and put up their hands like criminals being arrested. It's that the people telling them to do all of those things aren't saying "thank you" enough.

This legislation sounds like a throwaway punchline we would put in a post about TSA. You can imagine us writing a few paragraphs about politicians being useless, then we'd end the post with a line like "for its next trick, Congress is going to force TSA agents to say 'please' and 'thank you' while they bad touch you."

And yet here we are, ostensibly in reality.

[Photo: fox6now / YouTube]

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