By Doug Doan
Former TSA Boss Kip Hawley has written an important, but flawed, new book, telling us that TSA is a broken agency in need of urgent reform. Among the other revelations he makes is that TSA provides only a false sense of security, needlessly inhibits legitimate travelers stuck in the long demeaning lines. He also admits that TSA’s much-touted “risk-based” strategy is a canard.
The book offers thoughtful recommendations for reform, which is why I find it all so sad.
The one big issue that Hawley does not much discuss is why he never tried to implement any of these urgent reforms while he was in charge of the very agency that he now tells us, correctly, is broken. Not that it is fair to pick only on Kip Hawley. Every other DHS senior leader, from the former Secretaries at DHS, Commissioners of CBP, and TSA, has either started, or joined, a consulting company advocating urgent reforms to the very organization that they once led. Let’s also admit that every one of them had the opportunity, and was confirmed by the Senate with the power and responsibility, to implement the very reforms that they now advocate in exchange for huge consulting fees.
While serving as the chief at TSA, Kip Hawley implemented ineffective new rules resulting in the confiscation of millions of clippers, nail files, small scissors, bottles of shampoo, face creams and other toiletries. Hawley drove up individual citizen and commercial industry costs and frustrations by directing that all liquids be put into small bottles. And, unique to the U.S. forced every traveler to remove shoes to navigate the TSA’s national embarrassment of security. (Full disclosure: TSA confiscated two of my engraved, silver cigar cutters and I am still miffed!).
Now that Kip Hawley is out of office, anxious to consult, and needful of distinguishing himself from a herd of other such persons, he tells us what we already knew–that none of that stupidity increased security a whit. Put another way, Mr. Hawley has now seen the light, although he is no longer able to do much about it.
What burns me the most is wondering why Kip Hawley could not summon the courage to implement wiser policy when he had the chance and served as the Chief of TSA. Not that he is alone. All past DHS secretaries, CBP Commissioners and former TSA Chiefs are busy offering similarly wise counsel that is almost completely different from the policies they pushed when they held office. How sad is that?
Maybe TSA, CBP and DHS suffer from a different problem than what Kip Halwey writes about in his new book. Perhaps the leadership is all wrong. Perhaps the people that have, so far, been selected to run those agencies were just not up to the task. They lacked the courage, and the ability, to push the government into more sensible policies that actually do balance the need for security and the need to facilitate legitimate trade and travelers. Far easier to criticize policies after leaving office, then hang out their shingles in Washington and starting hustling business by promising to help fix the many problems that they were directly responsible for creating.
The problems and challenges that plague DHS, CBP and TSA are the same as they have always been. Creating DHS was supposed to integrate over 20 different agency efforts, but stovepipes of agency fiefdoms still exist, and overlapping jurisdictions remain rampant.
The bloated staffs at DHS contain so much bureaucratic deadwood that the agency is a fire hazard. Inept leadership has also allowed government employee unions to expand and proliferate, making it even harder for a real reformer, when he/she finally appears to get the huge federal behemoth functioning.
So let me offer an alternative suggestion to what ails TSA, CBP and DHS. Bad leadership.
We need a new generation of leaders, more willing to take tough positions with the bureaucracy, willing to take more personal risk in pushing wiser decisions, and showing more courage in standing firm. If this new generation of leaders gets fired or are forced to resign by a more timid administration, so be it. That would certainly be better than the current, rather tawdry, example of never really trying.
One more thing – like all good athletes, future leaders at DHS, CBP and TSA need to “leave it all on the field” and do whatever they can while in office. I long for the day when a senior DHS leader departs and tells us he/she did everything possible, worked as hard as he/she could and is now going back home to run a Waffle House or some other honorable business instead of hanging around Washington to set up a sort of weird Office in Exile, barraging Americans with a stream of woulda, coulda, shoulda.
Maybe I could even get my cigar cutters back, too.