Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 27, 2006

LA Times column pillories TSA staff cuts

Filed under: Aviation Security,Organizational Issues — by Christian Beckner on April 27, 2006

Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has an interesting piece today on TSA’s performance at Los Angeles International Airport:

Twice on recent flights out of LAX, I’ve been stuck in security lines that stretched outside of the building. That’s nothing new, of course. But these lines were so long I had time to grow a beard, have a weenie roast and fire off an angry letter to the Transportation Security Administration, the underperforming stepchild of the Department of Homeland Security.

Cars and trucks drove past by the hundreds, meanwhile, and potentially, we were all sitting ducks. I spent 20 minutes outside on one occasion, then stepped inside to find an even longer line, and nearly missed my flight. For the third straight year, the Rand Corp. warned in February that a luggage or car bomb attack could wipe out hordes of people jammed on sidewalks and in the check-in lobbies. Rand recommended that airlines and TSA add enough staff to move passengers along more quickly.

The reasons for these long lines?

Paul Haney, an LAX official, said the airport is down 200 TSA staffers from its allocation of 2,000 full-time-equivalent positions. That’s 400 less than its allocation of a year ago and 700 down from the high in 2003. This follows the national pattern. Several times since the inception of TSA, Congress has simply decreed that the agency will have fewer employees nationwide. In case you’re wondering, the number of passengers at LAX rose steadily as the TSA whacked employees.

Why not just hand out bull’s-eye vests to passengers stuck on the pavement?

“It sure is damn stupid,” U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) said of the shortage. She intends to make her feelings known to Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff, she said, asking him to explain how a one-time terrorist target is supposed to ensure traveler safety with a shrinking TSA staff.

The article mentions that TSA is shifting responsibility for hiring and training to the local level, which could be causing delays in replacing screeners who have left the TSA workforce. This posting at the unofficial TSA Screeners site notes a short-term solution to the problem, an impending push to hire more temporary screeners at LAX for the summer travel season. But that’s not a long-term fix. The TSA HQ needs to make a renewed effort to look at readjusting the TSA workforce in a way that is appropriate to airport requirements.

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