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Steven Frischling
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Steven Frischling, aka: Fish, is globe hopping professional photographer, airline emerging media consultant working with large global airlines and founder of The Travel Strategist. Fish has racked up more than 1,000,000 miles since he started to track his mileage in 2005.

Fish's travel tends to be less than leisurely, including flying from New York to Basrah, Iraq, for six hours; Hong Kong for eight hours, Kuwait City for two hours and traveling around the world in 3.5 days to shoot a series of photo assignments in 4 cities and 4 countries on 3 separate continents.

Fish grew up at the end of New York's JFK International Airport's Runway 4R/22L, which probably explains his enjoyment of watching planes, fly overhead. When not shooting photos or traveling Fish designs camera bags, hones is expertise on airline security and spends his time at home cheering for the Red Sox with his 3 kids 102 yards from the ocean.

TSA’s Budget … can they justify it?

POST EDITED ON 10-MARCH-2011 : CORRECT AN ERROR IN THE FINANCIAL NUMBERS CAUSED BY A SPELL CHECKER

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) budget is enormous, but is the agency prioritizing and allocating its funds in the most effective manner?

At present the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lists the TSA’s budget at US$8,164,780,000 with US$7,910,780,000 of that being listed as “discretionary”, along with a “trust fund” of US$254,000,000.

Of this US$8,164,780,000 budget, the TSA has broken down its spending in this following way:

Aviation Security – $5,559,894,000

Federal Air Marshal Service - $950,015,000

Transportation Security Support & Intelligence – $1,052,369,000

Aviation Security Capital Fund – $326,591,000

Checkpoint Screening Security Fund – $326,591,000

Transportation Threat Assessment & Credentialing – $210,944,000

Surface Transportation Security – $137,558,000

So what is included in the TSA’s US$8,164,780 budget? Well here are a few highlights :

– US$214,700,000 or the additional Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) whole body image scanners … which may end up being removed from service if a number of legislators have their way.

– US$218,900,000 for the hiring of additional Transportation Security Officers (TSO) and Supervising Transportation Security Officers (STSO) to operate the AIT scanners at TSA security checkpoints.

– US$95,700,000 and an addition of 255 positions (which fall under a different budget line) to support the hiring of 5,355 new TSOs and STSO, as well as training, uniform purchases, checkpoint consumables, Federal Security Director staff, rent, recruitment, benefits, and increases in information technology costs

– US$60,000,000 to purchase 800 new additional portable Explosive Trace Detection machine and related checkpoint consumables.

– US$71,000,000 and an additional 523 positions for the creation of 275 explosives detection canine units, with 112 of those teams to be deployed at 28 Category X Airports … the largest and busiest airports that already have law enforcement and DHS canine teams in place. Of these 532 positions, 262 will be full-time positions, meaning the TSA will be hiring 261 part-time canine explosives handlers.

–  US$20,200,000 for Behaviour Detection Officers (BDOs) as well as the hiring of 350 new BDOs, with 140 of those BDOs to be hired on as part-time.  Despite the BDO program having not been proven to be effective or valuable, the hiring and training of part-time “observational experts” is problematic, including proficiency in the position.

– US$6,000,000 on “Whisper Communications” … also known as two-way portable radios to be used in conjunction with the new AIT scanners.  This comes with the new AIT software in the L3 Pro Vision AIT scanners no longer requiring a screener be off site to necessitate the need for two-way radio communications.

– US$40,000,000 and the hitting of 74 new positions to manage the international program at 15 of the TSA’s 19 existing foreign offices. Of the 74 new positions, 37 will be part time … which is interesting considering the break down of the 74 positions. 34 Transportation Security Specialists, 10 International Industry Representatives, and a 10 person Rapid Response Team, to be strategically placed in high risk areas such as the Middle East and Africa.

OK … now to what really stands out to me …  the TSA is only spending 2% of its budget on “Transportation Threat Assessment.”  The TSA consistently discusses the need to be ahead of the terrorists and to be proactive, yet only 2% of their resources are allocated to this critical area of transportation security.

In the TSA’s budget section of the 2011 DHS annual budget it reads “The focus of TSA is to identify, prioritize, and mitigate risks, ultimately minimizing the impact of potential incidents.”  How does the TSA expect to achieve any of these objectives with 2% of its budget allocated to Transportation Threat Assessment and roughly 1% dedicated to Surface Transportation Security?

Not that I want the TSA being involved in the passenger security of commuter trains, subways, buses, national rail or any other type of transportation, despite the agency being mandated to provide “Transportation Security,” … but the agency allocates roughly 1% of its budget to Surface Transportation.

The 1% spent on surface transportation leads me to the budgeting for the Federal Air Marshal Service…

…the TSA’s opening line justification for the US$950,015 allocated to the Federal Air Marshal Service is “Promoting confidence by deploying Federal Air Marshals internationally and domestically.” The agency may want to try promoting confidence by deploying more effective security procedures and policies that enable true aviation security. True aviation security, rather than a show-of-force passenger security environment would do far more for promoting confidence than anything else.

So, while I believe there is a need for Air Marshals, the TSA’s budget goes on to say the following about the TSA’s duties:

Managing the security risk to the US surface transportation system while ensuring freedom of movement of people and commerce. These systems accommodate approximately 751 million passengers traveling on buses each year; over 9 billion passenger trips on mass transit per year; nearly 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials transported every day (95 percent by truck); over 140,000 miles of railroad track (of which 120,000 miles are privately owned); 3.8 million miles of roads (46,717 miles of Interstate highway and 114,700 miles of National Highway System roads); 582,000 bridges over 20 feet of span; 54 tunnels over 19,685 feet in length; and nearly 2.2 million miles of pipeline.

So … the TSA screens 652,000,000 aviation passengers a year, and allocates roughly US$6,450,175 dedicated to screening those travelers, but at the same time only allocates U$137,558 to the security of the 9,000,000,000 surface passengers and 292,000,000 haz-mat shipments via surface transport annually.

The TSA deploys roughly 50 “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams” each week. These teams were designed to increase the TSA’s visibility in areas people may not normally encounter them, such as bus stations, subway platforms, on board a train, etc, however with 55% of those operations being dedicated to surface transportation, and the remaining 45% being dedicate to the aviation domain … where they already have a massive presence … the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams do little to actually fulfill the TSA’s role in providing comprehensive Transportation Security outside of the airport and aviation environment.

So where does this lead me?

It leads back to a question I have posed many times … is the TSA on task?   Can the TSA handle such a wide range of security tasks with such tunnel vision in one direction and not properly allocating its resources to fulfill their total mission?

Should the TSA, which fails with frequency at security at home, be engaging in providing overseas support to other nations … such as the task force that was deployed to Yemen following the failed cargo bomb plot in October?  Should the TSA be taking on canine teams when explosives detection has been capably handled by law enforcement at airports? Should the TSA be creating part-time BDO positions … or creating new BDO positions at all? Should the TSA be allocating US$6-mil for radios when new software is coming online that will eliminate the need for these radios?

The TSA is fighting for a larger budget and claims budget cuts will reduce the number of TSOs and increase the security wait times at airports … this is unlikely since the budget is already bloated and the agency has already wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on technology that was never proven effective to start with and continues to waste millions of dollars on initiatives that have yet to be proven in a test environment much less the field.

If the TSA is looking for places to reduce its budget, lets start with the elimination of the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams. The elimination of these teams would free up both financial assets and human assets that can be redeployed to areas in which the TSA can actually have an impact, rather than areas where the TSA may be in their jurisdiction but are clearly out of their element.

Hopefully the 2012 budget is scrutinized with a fine toothcomb and the agency can become more effective to meet its primary mission without wasting excess manpower and funds.

Happy Flying!

11 Responses

  1. Great work here. Do you think you could take one more pass at these numbers?–the units seem to jump around, and it’s making it difficult to understand what’s what. (For what it’s worth, I do really like writing out big numbers like this. “Billion” and “million” sure sound the same, but when you see those three extra zeros, it hits home more.)

  2. George,

    I have read the article by my fellow BoardingArea bloggers, the Wandering Aramean, and read of this incident elsewhere … and its just absurd.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  3. Doug,

    Which numbers are you looking at? One issue with the TSA is that the numbers they have seem to change from report to report … which changes if you look at the funding hard numbers vs the funding “percentage” numbers.

    The percentage numbers, which I have used before, are often a bit different than the numbers submitted at the budget reviews.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  4. There are random appearances of “,000″ at the end of the numbers – so these are either erroneous, or missing in the other cases.

  5. Dave,

    Which numbers? Some are Millions, some are billions, so the “000″ appear to be correct. Unless I am not seeing what you’re seeing.

    Please point out which numbers you feel are incorrect.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  6. “TSA’s budget at US$8,164,780, with US$7,910,780,000 of that being listed as “discretionary”, along with a “trust fund” of US$254,000,000.”

    Either $8,164,780 or $7,910,780,000 has to be wrong, right? I think this is what others are referring to.

  7. Ryan,

    Thanks that is a typo, now corrected. The TSA budget is US$8,164,780,000, the “discretionary” spending is$7,910,780,000.

    Thanks for pointing out that error, it has been corrected.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  8. Thanks for responding. The other place I’d wan to confirm is the first set of breakdowns: is the air Marshall program really only $950k (as in 10-15 full-time equivalents with no other costs) or is it some multiple of 950k?

  9. Doug,

    Check again … all the numbers were corrected. For some reason when I used the MS Word spell checker it removed the last three “000″ from my figures. For some reason when I corrected this error, I didn’t correct the figures at beginning of the post.

    The Federal Air Marshal Service has a budget allocation of US$950,000,000 (950mil) not 950k.

    Happy Flying!

    -Fish

  10. Consider, though, that the actual TSA spending is drastically less than its budget. In fact, spending is regularly 5b or so below what they are allotted.

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