People should not be obliged to pay an $85 federal fee to not be molested. The Transportation Security Administration expected its PreCheck program to be a silver bullet to boost revenue and speed passenger flow. Vast numbers of travelers were supposed to shell out $85 and submit all sorts of personal information, go to a government office for an interview, and then receive a bureaucratic blessing that allowed them to avoid the worst delays and indignities in TSA screening. But the demand for PreCheck has been far less than TSA expected – which helps explain the debacles of airport delays TSA is spawning this year.
Here’s a riff from an August 2014 oped I wrote on the perverse incentive of PreCheck:
“TSA is seeking Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design proposals to speed along people who have enrolled in its PreCheck program. Travelers who pay $85 and submit ample personal information and their fingerprints can bypass semi-strip-downs, routine groping and the nudie X-ray whole-body scanners. More than 400,000 people have paid up, providing TSA with a windfall of more than $30 million.
However, even a political scientist could recognize TSA PreCheck’s perverse incentive. The worse the TSA abuse of average travelers, the more people will pay $85 to avoid degradation at airport checkpoints. TSA can thereby profit every time a video showing it mauling innocent passengers goes viral on the Internet. Since the TSA is a federal agency, charging extra for PreCheck cannot be considered extortion.”
(TSA chief John Pistole responded, scowling that my article “unfairly disparages” and “maligns” TSA’s “dedicated” employees.)
PreCheck is a farce in large part because TSA should be treating the vast majority of travelers with PreCheck courtesy and speed even without hitting them with a “decency surcharge” of $85. Instead, TSA boarhawgs travelers by treating almost everyone as if they were on a Terrorist Watch List. Many TSA agents seem to enjoy abusing hapless passengers.
TSA doesn’t give a damn about the delays and costs it imposes on travelers. The debacles of recent months are further proof that the only solution is to abolish the agency and privatize airport security.
The absurdity is so stark that even the New Yorker thumped TSA in a cartoon in its new issue.