A missed opportunity on TSA.

The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Kaminski sat down with John Pistole, head of the TSA, for this weekend’s “Weekend Interview.” Overall, it was a pretty favorable one. Kaminski basically threw out some soft balls and let Pistole hit them out of the park. But this isn’t to say Kaminski didn’t try to address all of the concerns people have had with the new TSA screening policy; that is, except for at least one.

“Yeah, it’s inconvenient,” he says, but “for those who say it’s groping, I wonder how many have actually been through it.” For the sake of journalism, I opted out of the full-body image screen this week at Washington’s Reagan Airport to test this premise. A friendly screener patted me down with “the back of my hand” in sensitive areas, and didn’t honor the TSA’s invocation to run up the thigh until he met resistance. My experience wasn’t bad, but Mr. Pistole admits that isn’t always the case.

Notice Kaminski didn’t receive the full pat-down. Kaminski sort of let’s point this flop. In the next paragraph, Pistole takes it in another direction, as if acknowledgement alone of Kaminski’s experience is sufficient. But I see something important.

I imagine that Kaminski’s experience of not receiving the full pat-down is actually fairly common among normal-looking passengers. TSA agents know it is awkward to essentially grope people — especially ones who do not outwardly look suspicious. In a way, I am happy about that. Yet at the same time, I think it can potentially undercut TSA policy.

It is a common understanding of regulation that resources are finite, and thus, the more draconian regulation becomes, the more spread thin resources are. This can typically be alleviated by devoting more resources. Some people call this increased security, others call it a slippery slope.  But there’s another problem regulators face as their regulation approaches being draconian: shirking. Humans regulate other humans, and the more difficult regulation is to carry out, the more irrational it seems to be, the more the individuals doing it will underperform their responsibilities. It seems like a paradox, but all things have diminishing returns. After a point, those returns become negative.

I would have liked to have seen some questioning on this point. I think Kaminski’s experience was in fact just as important to consider as some of the other arguments addressed in the intervew, and I would have like to hear Pistole’s response; although, I can imagine it would be dismissive.

Frankly, I would not be surprised if the next attack came from a terrorist flying business casual, who opted for the pat-down, and got a TSA officer who just didn’t feel comfortable groping him/her.

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