EDITORIAL: Instead of Pre-Check, privatize TSA

The screeners of the Transportation Security Administration are masters of inefficiency, inconvenience and humiliation. Only a small number of airline passengers — a microscopic percentage of the flying public — could be considered a partial match with a terrorist’s profile, yet all travelers are subjected to an intrusive cattle call before being allowed to proceed to their gates. Nursing mothers, the elderly and small children are routinely pulled aside for additional scrutiny. It’s a costly kabuki, designed to make people feel safe in a post-9/11 world, not actually make them safer.

Finally, there is some acknowledgment from the TSA that every passenger does not pose an equal threat to national security. The agency’s Pre-Check program declares some travelers more trusted than others, allowing them to move through security lines faster. No stripping of shoes, belts and outerwear. No removing laptops and toiletries. No full-body scan. All it takes is $85 and an application process that can provide clearance within minutes.

As reported this month by the Review-Journal’s Richard N. Velotta, Pre-Check has opened an enrollment center at McCarran International Airport. Another enrollment office operates at 2080 E. Flamingo Road. Nine airlines, including Southwest, participate in the program. Applications can be completed online, but participants must have documents verified in person and submit to a fingerprint scan and a background check. Thankfully, espionage and terrorism convictions are among the disqualifying offenses. Once accepted, enrollees can use Pre-Check for five years at any of the 177 airports where it’s offered.

The TSA also allows randomly selected travelers considered at low risk of being terrorists to use the Pre-Check line.

Considering the federal government’s sweeping digital snooping into the lives of Americans, it’s a wonder the TSA can’t authorize Pre-Check clearance for the vast majority of Americans right now. That the agency is willing to grant expedited screenings to so few people speaks to the larger reason for keeping the TSA and making it exceptionally difficult for airports to opt out of its services and retain private security: preserving federal jobs. Audits of the TSA have uncovered thousands of annual security breaches and a wide range of screener misconduct, including theft, with no resulting accountability. If private-sector screeners performed as poorly, at least they could be fired. The TSA’s own studies show private security contractors would not create new security risks. They’d be cheaper, too.

Pre-Check will be a great convenience for a great many McCarran fliers. A better idea? Boot the TSA out of Las Vegas, with the goal of abolishing the agency altogether.