No Perfect Solution
Terrorism continues to pose very real threats - in many forms and
from many quarters. Washington can and must act to counter them.
But let's not delude ourselves: No plan and no amount of resources
can insulate us from all possible dangers. Pursuing a solution that
seems to be perfect on paper may, in reality, leave all of us less
There is no set recipe for devising an effective air security
strategy. Absolutes do not apply here. But any approach taken
should do the following:
• First, recognize the world outside aviation. Since Sept.
11, 2001, there has been a disproportionate focus on threats to
aviation security. While these threats remain substantial, we
cannot allow them to blind us to other vulnerabilities, such as
those involving nuclear power plants or cargo containers.
Solutions, too, may best come from outside the aviation box. Some
argue, for instance, that the best defense against shoulder-fired
missiles is not installing unproven technology on aircraft, but
increasing efforts to contain these weapons in the first
• Second, differentiate among potential sources of danger.
Failure to do so has supplied most every air traveler with a
favorite horror story, be it long lines of people standing barefoot
waiting to be screened or the grandmother strip-searched for
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is moving in the
right direction, most recently with a plan to color-code passenger
risk levels. More is needed.
• Third, use resources soundly. It's popular to say "spend
whatever it takes," but that motto hides some real problems.
Limitless resources encourage a wasteful culture - especially in an
agency whose mission is unassailable. Not surprisingly, TSA - which
some joke actually is an acronym for "Thousands Standing Around" -
has been a magnet for waste. These wasted resources should be used
for real security.
The cost and the hassles associated with the new security function
as a further blow to the air travel industry itself, and ultimately
decrease safety as travelers abandon the airways for
To its credit, the government has lately improved on this front,
even coming up with creative win-win solutions, such as using
customs and immigration officers to augment the air marshal
Is a plan needed? Of course. But government agencies from the U.S.
Postal Service to state motor vehicle departments are awash in
plans, with little to show for them. We need to ensure that those
plans reflect common-sense principles and judgments. Though not as
appealing as a grand vision, this rational approach is essential
for the still-long battle ahead.
Gattuso is a research fellow in regulatory policy at The
Heritage Foundation, a public policy research institute.
Reprinted with permission of USA Today