Friday, September 11, 2009

TSA article

Feel safer?

Today's Washington Post reports that the good folks at the Transportation Security Administration are set to "obtain more rights" (right there in the headline) due to legislation advancing in the House of Representatives. They'll also get a pay hike:
The Transportation Workforce Enhancement Act, approved on a 19-to-10 party-line vote, would allow some 60,000 Transportation Security Administration employees, including airport screeners and air marshals, the right to bargain collectively. It also would place them in the widely used General Schedule, better known as the GS pay system, rather than the department's pay-for-performance structure, which is unpopular with workers.

The Congressional Budget Office says the 36,000 workers in the bottom two bands of the TSA's current compensation arrangement could get an average salary boost of $1,700 by converting to GS ranks. The pay increase makes up most of the estimated cost of the bill -- $640 million over five years.
Reporter Joe Davidson notes that Republicans in Congress "showed little love to the working men and women of the TSA" and complained the legislation "would make it too hard to fire them". Given comments by some of the union officials quoted in the article, I don't think they're too far off base:
Civil service protections would force "management to do their job and not just fire anyone indiscriminately," said Dennis Acevedo, a West Palm Beach, Fla., behavioral detection officer for the TSA. The civil service process, including required warnings and counseling for freeloaders, can help turn them into productive employees, he added, speaking in his role as president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 558.
If unionization were synonymous with improved productivity I would think that public school teachers would be more productive than their private school counterparts, which is not the case. More generally, the notion that making it more difficult to fire someone will lead to enhanced productivity, as Acevedo contends, doesn't mesh with common sense.

I will grant the unions this much, however: when the government has the power to hire and fire employees arbitrarily, and hand out performance bonuses as it sees fit, you're asking for trouble. It's a system that lends itself to abuse, allowing management to reward friends and fire potential enemies. While in the private sector supervisors who engaged in such behavior would probably be fired -- as treating employees in such a manner would negatively impact the bottom line -- the public sector doesn't easily lend itself to such scrutiny.

The far better approach here is simply to disband the TSA and privatize airport security (and airports). Employees would be paid what they are worth, and hired and fired based on performance. The security companies themselves would be selected based on cost and performance.

That approach, however, is not what will get you votes and opportunities for patronage, which is really what the current approach is all about.

More thoughts on airport security here.

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