How airport security money is really spent

Ever think, while standing in line, that airport security money could be spent more wisely? A new federal audit says that you're right.

Published June 30, 2005 1:30PM (EDT)

If you've ever had the thought that airport security money could be spent more wisely -- and if you endure the ridiculous circus that's called "going through security" on anything like a regular basis, we'd submit that it's impossible not to have had such a thought -- then you might want to spare yourself the agony of reading today's Washington Post.

While you were putting your shoes through the X-ray machine and missing your flight so that an airport security guy could study your boarding pass like it's the Dead Sea Scrolls, a new federal audit finds that the Transportation Security Administration was wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on things that don't have much to do with making the skies safe.

Auditors have called into question $303 million of the $741 million TSA spent to assess and hire airport screeners. The Post notes some of the more curious examples of misspent money:

  • $526.95 for one phone call from the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Chicago to Iowa City;
  • $1,180 for 20 gallons of Starbucks Coffee at the Santa Clara Marriott in California;
  • $1,540 to rent 14 extension cords at $5 each per day for three weeks at the Wyndham Peaks Resort and Golden Door Spa in Telluride, Colo; and
  • $8,100 for elevator operators at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan.

The TSA and its contractors say they did the best that they could, and the excuses they offer -- although a hell of a lot more legitimate in this context -- will sound familiar to anyone who heard the president speak Tuesday night. "We are a threat-driven, risk-management organization," Tom Blank, the TSA's acting deputy administrator, told the Post. "We knew we were threatened. There were bad guys out there. We never questioned that we needed to do this within the time frame Congress mandated. . . . Any time you are on a war footing, you will pay a premium for products and services."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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