Uniform lunacy at the TSA
By Ralph R. Reiland
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Just when you think things can't get any crazier, Washington's politicians go another step higher on the lunacy scale.
With automatic spending cuts collectively known as the sequester cutting only 2 cents per dollar out of the bloated federal budget — a budget that's grown 71 percent faster than inflation over the past two decades — the federal scaremongers are rushing around, putting padlocks on the control towers at the nation's airports.
We're supposed to believe that a measly 2 percent cut in spending, something any business or household could handle if its spending was out of control and unsustainable, makes it impossible for the government to launch an aircraft carrier or staff the control towers.
Still, if we're lucky enough to avoid a crash landing without a control tower, what we'll see inside the airports is something new and special: a handsome conglomeration of sharp-dressed government employees, newly outfitted at taxpayers' expense and ready to squeeze the legs of incoming passengers and snap a few naked photos.
Just two days before the automatic federal spending cuts took effect, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced it had awarded a $50 million one-year contract for new uniforms for airport screeners — clothes that will be manufactured partially in Mexico.
Last November, the nation's newly unionized airport screeners ratified their first collective bargaining agreement. The contract gives screeners the federal perk of having “more say in what they wear on the job,” according to The Star-Ledger in Newark.
So, screeners not only have “more say” about what they wear but they also got the nation's increasingly financially-stretched taxpayers to pick up the $50 million tab.
For the 50,000 employees, that's $1,000 each for the new outfits, just in the first year.
The company that was awarded the contract is VF Imagewear, owner of Lee and Wrangler brand jeans. Nice stuff, sort of like a fake Montana cowboy.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the sequester will force furloughs at the TSA and is warning of increased waiting times at airports, plus there might be no one in the control towers, but the non-furloughed screeners who are left will look good.
What taxpayers are buying for the screeners is listed on a TSA fact sheet for employees: “TSA will provide your initial uniform issue consisting of 3 long sleeve shirts, 3 short sleeve shirts, 2 pairs of trousers, 2 ties, and one belt, sweater, socks and jacket.”
That's everything but shoes and underwear. To ensure the shoes are style-coordinated with the new outfits and to help prevent agents from falling as they chase jihadists around the airport, the employee-supplied shoes are federally mandated to be “black leather with non-slip soles.”
The new uniforms will be “manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico” even though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 specifically requires the TSA to purchase uniforms made in the United States.
The federal bureaucrats got around that made-in-America manufacturing requirement by saying that Mexico couldn't be excluded as a manufacturing source because of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Please don't yell at the customs officers or the TSA officers,” said Napolitano, warning of inevitable long lines at the airports. “They aren't responsible for sequester.”
Plus, at $1,000 a pop, they're looking real snazzy.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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