In just the past few months, the TSA has come under fire for subjecting elderly women to humiliating (alleged) strip searches and complimenting passengers on their sex toys. Things have gotten so bad that even the TSA admits it needs to reform its policies, but instead of targeting how the agents conduct searches, Republicans are focusing on their clothing and job title.
CNN reports that Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, has introduced the "Stop TSA's Reach In Policy Act," (which has the not-at-all sensational nickname "the STRIP Act") in response to three women's claims that they were asked to remove their pants so officers could examine their medical devices (the TSA insists the strip searches didn't take place). In the past five years, the TSA started calling screeners "transportation security officers," and added metal badges to their uniforms. The bill, which has 25 Republican co-sponsors, would prevent TSA agents from using the title "officer" or wearing uniforms that resemble what police wear. Blackburn says:
"Congress has sat idly by as the TSA strip-searches 85-year-old grandmothers in New York, pats down 3-year-olds in Chattanooga, and checks colostomy bags for explosives in Orlando. Enough is enough! ... The least we can do is end this impersonation, which is an insult to real cops."
Screeners are furious, and it seems police officers aren't devoting much time to grumbling about what TSA agents wear. Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said:
"I think it is wrong to strip away the title. It's not the screener's fault ... I think the bill in Congress should focus not so much on taking away a title but in assuring that the training and experience support the title. The answer is to build upon it; don't strip it away."
Right, but actually reforming the TSA would be kind of difficult, while Blackburn now has something to write home to the constituents about in her
non-denominational holiday Christmas cards.
If you picture the last TSA agent who gave you a far too invasive, or even just surly, inspection, cutting them down a notch may seem like a great idea. However, as Adler says, the way to making flying less heinous isn't to take away the stripes on TSA agents' pant legs, but to train them to do more respectful and effective searches. The recent changes announced by the agency sound like they could be the first step to transforming "security theater" into something that would actually keep us safer. Regardless of what TSA agents are wearing, our first priority should be making sure that those policies work, and actually go into effect sometime soon.