TSA Wastes $1 Billion on SPOT

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A new GAO report recommends that Congress end the SPOT program, which attempts to catch terrorists by suspicious behaviors they may exhibit at airport checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration currently spends more than $200 million a year on the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, even though there has been criticism from the start that there is no solid science behind it.

Here are observations about SPOT from my new Cato study on the TSA to be released next Tuesday:

The SPOT program illustrates the problems with top-down federal control over aviation security. The TSA ‘deployed SPOT nationwide before first determining whether there was a scientifically valid basis’ for it, notes the GAO. Nor did the TSA perform a cost-benefit analysis of SPOT before it was deployed. That is the way that the federal government often works—it rolls out an expensive ‘solution’ for the entire nation without adequate research, and it resists efforts to cut programs even if the benefits do not materialize.

The new Cato study focuses on a decade of TSA shortcomings and the advantages of privatizing airport security screening. In sharp contrast to the American approach of a federal monopoly over aviation security, the great majority of European countries and Canada use competitive contracting for airport screening.

If you are in D.C. today, please drop by our Capitol Hill noon forum on the TSA.