Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Anti-terror bureaucracy heads for an early grave


The anti-terrorism agency that Congress rushed into existence just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to protect US planes, trains and trucks is shrinking, and could all but fade away.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which hired some 65,000 employees and has spent more than US$10 billion over three-and-a-half years, has been beset by complaints about its performance, leaving it vulnerable to Republicans who want to reduce the size of government.

After the terrorist attacks, "people were panicked to put in place a massive bureaucracy," said House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica.

The Florida Republican says the time has come to rethink TSA and cut it back.

The federal air marshal program which places armed, undercover officers on select planes, already has been transferred elsewhere within the Department of Homeland Security, for instance. TSA has also cut its work force of passenger and baggage screeners from 60,000 to 45,000.

Mica and other Republicans, who were never entirely comfortable with creating a new bureaucracy, want to return all airport security screener jobs to the private sector, where they were before Sept. 11. If so, the federal screeners would get the first opportunity to apply for the private jobs.

Mica argues that private companies will do a better, more efficient job at the screening that currently is the TSA's primary function.

"They were given almost an impossible task, and they did complete the task" which the Congress requested, Mica said of the TSA.

"Now the question comes to sheer numbers and performance, and there's a lot to be desired," he said.

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