Are TSA operations flawed?


  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was established after 9/11 to protect the nation’s transportation systems.
  • TSA employs thousands of behavior detection officers (BDOs) to identify stress, fear or deception in travelers at airport screening checkpoints.
  • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.
  • GAO recently released a report stating the TSA has no valid evidence that most (28 of 36) behavioral indicators used by BDOs are useful in identifying individuals who may pose a threat.


TSA plays a critical role in keeping travelers safe. It’s also expensive — the agency costs more than $7 billion per year.

  • KEEP IT – “Better safe than sorry”

    • Added protection:   TSA says the behavior detection program is a vital component to security and there’s a body of scientific evidence that supports its use.
    • Arrests/Foiled plots:   TSA has foiled several plots and leaders told GAO some suspicious actions can’t be ignored, and pointed out that identifying suspicious behavior has led to arrests.
    • Advancing tech:   TSA has advanced technology since 9/11, deploying explosive detection systems, working to fortify cockpits and implementing “full body scanners” and behavioral detection is just another step.
  • DITCH IT – “If it doesn’t work, don’t fund it”

    • It’s ineffective:   Academic studies, including some in the TSA’s own files, don’t support the practice.
    • Wasteful spending:   An early budget proposal estimated cutting the program could save $65
      million per year. Why spend money on a program that can’t prove its own effectiveness?
    • Unfair to minorities:   Some claim the behavioral detection program can lead to racial and religious profiling of passengers.


  • In 2013, the GAO recommended limiting future funding for the behavioral detection program until scientific evidence demonstrated that it works.
  • TSA reduced funding and revised its list of behavioral indicators, and, in July 2016, a new GAO report said there’s little to no evidence most of the revised indicators are useful in identifying dangerous travelers.