You know those upgraded airport baggage screeners we’re supposed to be getting? A story just out from AP says the tests given to potential screeners when they apply, and the training program they undergo thereafter, are so unchallenging that they’d embarrass a Pac-10 football coach with an illiterate star quarterback:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The written tests given potential baggage screeners at airports never asked applicants to show they could identify dangerous objects inside luggage.“Anytime you have a government undertake a program of this size and scope, it’s going to be fraught with problems,” Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, said apologetically after the story came out.
In addition, screeners hired by the government to check baggage for bombs were given most of the answers to the tests, according to an internal investigation by the Homeland Security Department.
“Not a single question called up on a student to demonstrate a sufficient mastery of the class content to achieve the purpose of the training,” the agency’s acting inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, wrote to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.
During classroom training, screeners were given the questions in open-book quizzes and then the answers. The course ended with a closed-book examination of 25 questions. Nineteen of the questions on the final test were identical or virtually identical and three were similar to those on the quizzes, Ervin said.
One question asked “How do threats get aboard an aircraft?” The possible answers were (a) In carry-on bags; (b) In checked-in bags; © In another person’s bag; and (d) All of the above. The correct answer is (d).
A second question asked why it is important to screen bags for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). A possible answer: “The ticking timer could worry other passengers.” The right answer: “IEDs can cause loss of lives, property and aircraft.”
Schumer, who asked for the investigation, said the point of making airport security a federal function was to improve safety by employing better-trained workers.
“The questions appear as if they were written by Jay Leno’s gag writer,” said Schumer. “They’ve got to do a better job.”Ervin’s letter to Schumer was dated August 29 but was not released until Wednesday. The senator’s office said the letter was meant to be distributed sooner, but got lost in the mail due to problems with the Senate mail system that have been occurring since the anthrax scare about two years ago.
No kidding? Curriculum development takes work? Who’d have thought it?
Thing is, these aren’t curriculum development problems. This is what you do when you want to satisfy a curriculum requirement without actually teaching anything. I have to wonder what Rep. Mica would say about a public school that used these same tricks to prop up their students’ test scores.
What distresses me is that this observance of the letter of the law but not its substance is an old habit with airport security. I posted about this back on October 05, 2001, in the midst of a long rant on several subjects.Here’s the pertinent section. It used to be thick with links, but I’ve stripped out the dead ones. A lot of the remaining links are to organized labor sites, but that’s just because they keep their archives available longer than most online news sites do. Anyway:
I’m glad I’ve never had to work in airport security. There’s a reason scanners have a turnover rate between one hundred and four hundred percent annually. Working conditions are miserable. The pay is bone-scrapingly low, with no benefits and derisory raises.In spite of everything, they’re still not taking this stuff seriously.
The effect on airport security is a well-known problem. The GAO and the FAA have been issuing warnings about it for years. As one FAA security administrator put it, “At 400 percent turnover it’s hard to train people to sharpen pencils.” He added that the higher standards the FAA was considering might or might not help boost pay, since many airlines simply went for the security company that was the lowest bidder. Which is in fact true. Moreover, for years now many airlines have been lobbying against security upgrades, which cost more and create airport delays.
Let us pause here to reflect that the invisible hand of the marketplace has no brain attached to it.
The airport security industry is dominated by two companies, Argenbright and Huntleigh. They’re experts at lowball bids. Neither pays a living wage or provides benefits. Employee training is minimal, and they place no particular value on experience. The only activity they pursue with any degree of enthusiasm is employee intimidation. Both companies have been repeatedly cited for labor violations. Huntleigh’s management has come in for other criticism as well.So, when it comes to actually providing security services, neither company is what you’d call results-oriented. This is because they’re not really in the security business. What they do is satisfy the letter of the law at the lowest possible cost.
I am not unwilling to be reassured. In fact, I’ll come right out and admit that I would like to be reassured. But there’s not one single issue about which the Department of Homeland Security has made me feel a bit more secure. And with their mandate, and budget, and latitude of operation, by now they should have managed something along that line.