Republicans Miss the Real Issue Regarding TSA Scanners

By: Laurence M. Vance

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is back in the news again, and, as usual, it is not because the agency did something noteworthy.

The TSA was established by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (S.1447) that was passed by the 107th Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001. No Republicans in the Senate voted against the bill, and only nine Republicans in the House (including the heroic Ron Paul) voted no. Originally part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), the TSA was moved to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when that department was created in 2003. The TSA is headquartered in Springfield, Virginia.

The official mission of the TSA is to “protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” Although this mainly concerns security in airports, the TSA, with industry partners, also “safeguards all four general modes of land-based transportation: mass transit, freight rail, highway motor carrier and pipeline.” The TSA has about 65,000 employees, most of whom are transportation security officers, inspectors, specialists, administrators, or other security professionals. Its approximately $8 billion budget is partially funded by a $5.60 per-passenger fee for each one-way airplane flight originating in the United States. Although airports are allowed to opt-out of TSA screening and hire private companies, those companies must be approved by the TSA and follow TSA procedures.

For years, the TSA has been known for its ineptitude, baggage theft and other criminal activity, inefficiency, waste, sexual harassments and assaults, and abuses of airline passengers. At various times, the TSA has failed to detect explosives, knives, and guns, all the while treating Americans like—in the words of James Bovard—“cattle being chuted to a civil liberties slaughterhouse.”

The latest outrage perpetrated by the TSA is the spending of more than $18.6 million of taxpayer money “to update airport screening protocols and technology to be more inclusive of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming passengers.” The TSA “hopes the new technology will help reduce the pat-downs and other invasive screen procedures that are required when transgender individuals trigger body scanners ‘in a sensitive area.’”

The TSA issued a press release timed to coincide with the so-called Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31):

On this internationally recognized day for the transgender community, TSA is proud to announce significant initiatives as a direct result of close partnership with community stakeholders,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “Over the coming months, TSA will move swiftly to implement more secure and efficient screening processes that are gender neutral, as well as technological updates that will enhance security and make TSA PreCheck® enrollment more inclusive. These combined efforts will greatly enhance airport security and screening procedures for all.”

“To transgender Americans of all ages, I want you to know that you are so brave,” President Biden said. “You belong. I have your back.”

Republicans charged the president with politicizing the TSA to appease the Democratic Party’s base. This is “outrageous” and “wokeness over national security,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Montana).

Why is it that Republicans only seem to criticize the TSA when the agency or one of its security screeners does something outrageous?

Probably for the same reason that Republicans criticize NPR, but only because it has a liberal bias. Probably for the same reason that Republicans criticize the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), but only when it funds pornographic art. Probably for the same reason that Republicans criticize Medicare, but only for waste, fraud, and abuse. Probably for the same reason that Republicans criticize federal funding of Planned Parenthood, but only because the organization performs abortions. Probably for the same reason that Republicans criticize federal regulations for being excessive, burdensome, or costly, but not because they should not be issued in the first place. And probably for the same reason that Republicans criticize the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but only when it awards grants for ridiculous things like the $33,037 grant to the University of South Florida “to study factors that can increase vaccination among gay men for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) to prevent them from developing anal cancer.”

The real issue here is the existence of the TSA in the first place. The nation’s airports are either owned by local government entities or are privately owned. They are not owned by the federal government. Therefore, the federal government has no more authority to provide airport security than it has to provide security at hotels and convenience stores. The only security business the federal government should be in is national security. There is no reason why airports and airlines cannot use private screening services, just like many other countries do.

As law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds has well said: “When, as was the case before 9/11, security screeners were contractors employed by airlines, they had every incentive to do a good job: Airlines don’t want their planes hijacked or blown up. And they also had every incentive to be speedy and pleasant: Airlines don’t want to irritate their customers, or to make flying an unpleasant experience in general.”

The TSA shouldn’t have more inclusive scanners; it shouldn’t have any scanners at all. The agency should not exist in the first place.

Republicans generally oppose only the most outrageous cases of federal spending and overreach. They never seem to have a fundamental issue with government programs or agencies. They get upset only when the program or agency does something that violates some conservative position.