Monday, September 25, 2006

Idiotic Bureaucratic Authority - the TSA

Note - this image is not the Director of the TSA. (Or is it?)

Soon after the creation of Homeland Security, we had an extended debate in Congress about whether it would improve or diminish safety of air travelers to have public or private employees doing the job. Supporters of public employees argued that the private employees who had been used up until then were poorly screened and trained. But supporters of the private sector argued that those defects could be resolved and more importantly, private employees would be more responsive to the public's needs and concerns. In the end the democrats who have never met a public employee they did not like, prevailed because the GOP did not really care about the issue and worried about being called soft on security.

So the Transportation Security Administration was created. Affectionately known as the TSA (most people understand that it should be called Thousands Standing Around) it has worked its magic for the last several years. Soon after the London terror arrests the TSA introduced new and relatively restrictive rules for carryons. Fundamentally, it prohibited travelers from bringing liquids and gels except for prescriptions and some other very limited categories. But even the TSA soon found the error of its ways and authorized minute quantities of non-prescription materials.

On the TSA website the following explanation was offered of what a traveler could take on the plane - "Essential non-prescription liquid and gel medications up to 4 oz per container (including saline solution, eye care products, and KY jelly)." Any normal reading of that standard would be that I could take small quantities of non-prescription medications (presumably including toothpaste) in my carryon. For the past two days I have been stopped by TSA personnel for a 3 OZ tube of toothpaste and tonight for a minute (probably one ounce or less) quantity of Nose Better - which is a product used to help clear up congestion and dryness in nasal passages. It is clear that the employees who forced these diverstitures had not read their own websites. The site also says passengers can carryon - "All creams and lotions including Neosporin or first-aid creams and ointments, topical or rash creams and ointments, suntan lotions, moisturizers, etc." The site also list toothpaste of less than three ounces as acceptable. This is before the change in the regulations which takes effect on September 26.

Tonight was particularly galling. All of my materials in Sacramento got through. But in San Francisco, I was stopped in a random check and when the TSA flunkie inspected my carryon she discovered an almost used up tube of toothpaste (which was originally less than an ounce) and the Nose Better in addition to the Ayr - which is similar to the Nose Better. I argued with the moron saying a) the TSA site say you can take these kinds of things on and b) the TSA had announced that tomorrow even the rules which were cited above would be relaxed if people put their items in a quart ziplock bag. She would not budge. Unfortunately, I did not have the printout of the words on the site.

The TSA has not been demonstratably more effective than the private employees were prior to its creation in finding potential terrorists. What they have been very effective at is annoying the public with bizarre rituals. They have also been incredibly slow at creating a "trusted" traveller program for those of us who fly a lot and who would be willing to submit more information about ourselves in exchange for allegedly faster shots through airports. The loss of a small tube of toothpaste and a medication I find handy was not at all distressing. But it is distressing that they would feel it necessary to be extra bureaucratic on the eve of an announced change in the regulations.

Bureaucracy is always annoying. But in this case it is particularly annoying because they seemed to want to clamp down in two airports before a loosening on the next day.

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