A congressional architect of the federal agency that safeguards U.S. airports describes his post-9/11 creation today as a "bastard child … that's gotten out of control."
A passenger groping scandal is just one example of a bad "pattern" at the Transportation Security Administration, Rep. John Mica told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV
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The Florida Republican and transportation subcommittee chairman said he helped bring the agency to life, and now hopes to tame the 61,000-employee behemoth by channeling some of its functions — such as in-person airport passenger screenings at checkpoints — to private contractors.
"TSA should really concentrate on security — connecting the dots, putting the information together," said Mica, adding that "private contractors … can do a good job of the screening."
He said that's been proved in San Francisco, where a privatized screening system under federal supervision operates capably and cost-effectively compared to the government-run airport operations in which mishaps and personnel scandals have occurred.
"These latest incidents are unfortunately a pattern of employee misconduct that's pretty pervasive," said Mica. "We've had about a dozen meltdowns, actually, where they've had to fire large numbers of people not just for groping passengers
but for all kinds of schemes."
The TSA wasn't supposed to be this bad, or this big, when it was chartered as a division of another new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, he said.
"We wanted the federal government to set the [airport security] rules, procedures, protocols, because they had failed to do that before 9/11, when the airlines were doing it," he said. "We never intended it to grow from 16,500 screeners to now we have 46,000 screeners and 15,000 administrators in TSA, if you can believe that.
"So, they have this huge workforce — it's almost impossible for them to manage control," he said.
In light of incidents raising questions about the quality and competency of airport screeners, Mica said TSA recruiting drives have included advertising for new employees on pizza boxes and gas station pumps.
"They cannot recruit, they can't train, they can't retain, and obviously they have some serious management problems," he said.
Mica compared helping to write the Transportation and Security Act of 2001 to starting a family.
"I have two wonderful children," he said, meaning his real offspring, "and then I have my bastard child, TSA, that's gotten out of control. It isn't operating the way it was intended."
Mica also discussed the troubled state of America's transportation infrastructure and the $15 billion annual shortfall in the federal trust fund that pays for improvements and repairs to roads and bridges.
He said states, localities and the private sector will have to "step up" alongside the federal government to fill in some of that funding gap, especially if there is any expectation of expanding the highway and transit grid.
"If you want additional capacity you're going to have to pay for it," he said. "We barely pay for maintenance and we're $15 billion a year short."
He said the federal government has worked to trim federal overhead and duplication and, at the same time, make it faster and easier for states to tackle repairs and upgrades.
"We can't do every state and county bridge; those are not our responsibilities," he said.
But he said the federal government can make sure every taxpayer dollar designated for infrastructure — highways, airports and shipping ports alike — is spent optimally.
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