Airport Security

In New Jersey, you cannot legally pump your own gasoline into your car or truck. State law requires it be pumped by employees of the facility where you buy it. The only other state with a similar requirement is Oregon.

There is some debate about how much this adds to the cost of gasoline, but it definitely creates thousands of jobs, most of which I assume to go people with few job skills. In this era of stubbornly high unemployment in some places and among some groups, it isn't totally absurd to foster make-work jobs like those, even if people have to pay a bit more for gas.

But there is a difference between creating jobs for people to pump gas and creating jobs for people to monitor the safety of air travel. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in my opinion has become a make-work organization like that for the gas pumpers. Time after time I have gone through that antic ritual to check in for a flight, taking off my shoes, emptying my pockets, putting my laptop in a bin and every time I cannot help noticing how easy it would be to evade that security system. That matter was vividly underscored not long ago when the TSA's internal review group deliberately put items looking like deadly weapons and bombs through security, and the majority of them went through undetected.

I have my stories about TSA people confiscating my fingernail clippers or tiny scissors on one trip, only to wave them through on the next trip. You can buy a bottle of water from a vendor just outside the security entrance but no one tells you the security people will confiscate it when you walk 10 steps further. It seems abundantly obvious to me that many of the TSA employees are marking time until their next break, not focusing on their job.

This is in fact a fairly common phenomenon in the federal bureaucracy. Most people do not enter government service for challenge and opportunity but for the security. Once you're in a federal job, it takes an act of God to get you out and everyone knows it. There is no reward for exemplary work nor any punishment for incompetence or dereliction of duty.

Over many years in Washington, I have observed many changes of administration and seen new people come to the helm of government agencies time and time again determined to make a difference. It takes them a while to figure out that they lead their department only in the sense that the carved wooden figurehead leads a sailing ship. Cabinet secretaries cannot hire and fire, or move people around. They learn to sit in their offices, set policy, negotiate with members of Congress, issue press releases and hope their employees do some work when they feel like it.

But the TSA's job is too important for this runaround. It's only a matter of time until the next shift of terrorist suicide bombers makes a shambles of a U.S. airport. The TSA should contract out its work to private sector companies and hold them accountable. Private sector firms can impose strict standards on new employees and get rid of non-performers. The ones who lose their jobs can go pump gas in New Jersey or Oregon.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.