Stop Thanking the TSA: the government shutdown is not making flying more dangerous

Don’t thank them for coming in to work, the TSA has never made air travel safer.

Thomas Brown


The United State government has been in a limited shutdown for over a month now. Over 800,000 federal employees are furloughed and many are being asked to show up to work anyway on the promise that they’ll be eventually paid, tens of thousands of Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) workers among them. In the meantime, the news has been chock full with a lot of stories about TSA employees, working without pay during the shutdown, calling in sick. Airports in major cities have even closed down some security checkpoints. Hot on the heels of nearly every one of these ‘TSA workers still coming in to work’ pieces is the sympathy and gratitude expressed by members of the traveling public to the wageless workers. Don’t thank them, they deserve to be home.

Image courtesy of Getty.

To be clear, it is horribly unfair. These people have a job. They were told by the government that it is a very important job, that they are keeping their fellow citizens safe. It is a shit job, a thankless job, and it’s likely that if you work for the TSA your career options were limited in the first place. It’s even more likely that a TSA employee is among the 4/5 Americans working paycheck to paycheck and that this shutdown isn’t merely an inconvenience but a real danger to keeping a roof over your head, your bills paid, and your fridge stocked. I’d be pissed and no fair-minded and objective person could honestly argue that my anger wouldn’t be justified.

I can understand why anyone would be sympathetic with people who are losing their paychecks through no fault of their own. Even the legendary band KISS is helping out. What kind of a dick are you that you don’t feel for the TSA? They keep us safe!

Except that they don’t.

The idea that the TSA provides anything resembling security is insulting. Every single function the TSA is supposed to do, they fail at. In 2015, the TSA had a 95% failure rate at threat detection, forcing the resignation of the TSA chief. Two years later, their failure rate was in general at 75–80% and in many large airports still at 95%. The TSA is a useless organization, managed