Privatizing the Transportation Security Administration

16 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2014

Date Written: November 19, 2013


After the terrorist attacks in 2001, the federal government moved quickly to increase spending on aviation security and take control of passenger and baggage screening at U.S. airports. Congress created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in 2001, and then transferred the agency to the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002.

TSA’s main activity is operating security screening at more than 450 commercial airports across the nation. The agency also runs the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), analyzes intelligence data, and oversees the security of rail, transit, highways, and pipelines. TSA has 62,000 employees and an annual budget in 2013 of $7.9 billion.

After more than a decade of experience, it is clear that the creation of TSA and the federal takeover of airport screening was a mistake. Auditors have found that TSA’s screening performance has been no better, and possibly worse, than private screening. And TSA has become known for mismanagement, dubious investments, and security failures.

Congress should abolish TSA. The TSA activities that have not shown substantial benefits should be eliminated. Passenger and baggage screening — which represents about two-thirds of TSA’s budget — should be moved to the control of airports and opened to competitive private bidding. And the remaining parts of TSA — including intelligence and analysis activities — should be moved to other federal agencies.

Keywords: TSA, air marshal, airport screening, SPOT, DHS, aviation security, Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques

JEL Classification: L93, F5, H56

Suggested Citation

Edwards, Chris, Privatizing the Transportation Security Administration (November 19, 2013). Cato Institute Policy Analysis No. 742, Available at SSRN:

Chris Edwards (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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