Our regulatory state is failing us

The Transportation Security Administration withheld N-95 masks from staff and exhibited “gross mismanagement” in its response to the Coronavirus crisis – leaving employees and travelers vulnerable during the most urgent days of the pandemic, a senior TSA official alleges in a new whistleblower complaint.

On Thursday evening the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that handles whistleblower complaints, said they had found “substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” in the complaint and ordered the Department of Homeland Security to open an investigation…

TSA Federal Security Director Jay Brainard is an official in charge of transportation security in the state of Kansas, and has been with the TSA since the agency’s inception in 2003.

He told NPR that the leadership of his agency failed to protect its staff from the pandemic, and as a result, allowed TSA employees to be “a significant carrier” for the spread of the Coronavirus to airport travelers.

Here is the full NPR story.

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It gets worse. TSA guidance on glove changes allowed screeners to pat down as many as 50 passengers before putting on a new pair. There were no procedures for handling unwell passengers. Insufficient cleaning protocols. And headquarters even instructed airports to hold off on installing sneeze guards between document checkers and passengers. Some airports had done it on their own, those that were merely in process were told to 'stand down' because materials had to be ordered centrally.

Gary Leff! He's almost a celebrity and affiliated with GMU.

However, some science says that aside from mysterious super-spreaders (which may or may not be ordinary people who are close talkers rather than people who shed loads of viruses), that ordinary casual contact with an infected TSA worker will probably not infect you, unless their spittle or sneeze droplets land in your airways. So much ado about nothing, if you believe this narrative.

Bonus trivia: I saw on a fake news site that Dr. Fauci is saying we won't need another lockdown...if true, it's a triumph of Trump politics over science?

"unless their spittle or sneeze droplets land in your airways. So much ado about nothing,"

Wha? This is the way the virus always spreads. So, much ado about something.

@Anonymous - no. How many people did you interact with in your pre-Covid-19 days that sneezed or were foamers so that drops of spittle land in your face? Did you interact with Adolf Hitler? The speculation about C-19 virus was that it would spread like SARS did, with casual contact, i.e. elevator buttons. That doesn't seem to be the case?! Or at least that's one view.

So are you saying that no one needed to do any lockdowns? That face masks for people who were would have worked just fine? You know, without destroying eight trillion dollars of value in the world economy.

This looks like an even bigger admission of failure by the state.

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One month ago, Korea was on track to eradicating covid-19 with most days having fewer than 20 new cases. Then there was an outbreak traced to nightlife and they are back in a situation where they have 40-60 new cases on a typical day. If it was easy to stop the spread of the virus, Korea would have done so by now.

@Ricardo: nightclubs = spittle, sometimes literally and deliberately.

Not helped by the fact that this club was a Gay nightclub and so the South Koreans were immediately told by the usual suspect not to trace anyone. No idea if they listened or not.

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Sure, that explains the immediate spike in cases, it does not explain why, one month after closing all nightclubs, South Korea is still experiencing more new cases every day. The incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 is only 5 days.

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I had a theory that the younger the organization the more dynamic it would be, but TSA kind of puts that to rest.

My goodness, established November 19, 2001 and already inflexible.

It has been an underperforming agency from the beginning. As early as 2004, Michelle Malkin and Annie Jacobsen were producing articles on what you don't see every day (while airport travelers could see the misapplied effort for themselves). The founding director was a Navy admiral and his successor a corporation executive who'd worked in the transportation sector, so it's not as if some heckuva-job political hack established its seminal institutional culture.

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There has never been a good word put in for the TSA since inception. They are the Theatre Security Administration. Really great at finding evil bottles of water or shampoo but terrible at finding weapons that glow like lava on their X-ray machines.

They seem to be pretty good at finding handguns inadvertently left in gym bags at our airport. They even have a sign as you enter the airport, "Leave Your Little Friend At Home."

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The TSA is no different from all the other federal agencies. It deals with risk, risk to itself, minimizing it. So it looks for glass bottles instead of terrorists. Hard to miss a glass bottle; easier to miss a terrorist. However, terrorists tend to be more dangerous than glass bottles, no?

Happened to see a video of a recent temporary CIA director - forgot his name - who asked an Israeli counterpart: What do you look for at airports? "Terrorists", was the answer. We look for stuff.

Best of luck to all.

And it has to deal with political correctness. Israel looks for terrorists because they do not have to deal with a litigious grievance industry. If America looked for terrorists they would profile. Profiling means disparate impact. George W promised that no one would ever single out Arabs or Muslims. So the TSA doesn't. It looks for bottles of liquid.

After all a perfume bottle has no specially protected characteristics.

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The irony here is astounding.

The TSA is the poster child for the GOP’s “hold my beer; we’ll show you how to regulate” agency.

Are we going to blame this also on career bureaucrats who are impervious to the appointees? Because that would be a hilarious stretch

There is enough irony go to around for everyone. One of the impressive things in the Trump years has been the willingness of the Left to sell out every position it has ever held if they think it will make Trump look bad.

So what we have learned from George Floyd? Apparently that Unions are bad. The Left suddenly accepts that some bureaucracies are so entrenched that all you can do is abolish them. They are taking a position well to the right of Reagan - remember the Flight Controllers?

So if the police in a place of Minneapolis - with Democrats on every level of government and no Republican Mayor for about 50 years - cannot be controlled, why would the TSA?

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The TSA was a mistake. It should never have been created in the first place. It is yet another massive, intractable, intransigent, inflexible and unionized government bureaucracy guaranteed to fail at it's primary mission, just like the CDC. Though, to be fair to the CDC, the CDC likely employees many highly educated and dedicated scientists trying to do a good job.

Airline security should have been left to the airlines, on which case we might have seen competition, innovation, and accountability. With YAB (yet another bureaucracy) we get none of any of those.

Happy flying!

And another 911!

Airlines did the security and failed to compensate for government failing to heed warnings.

Note, in 2009, Obama heeded warnings of a pandemic from H1N1 thanks to Bush et al creating a warning system and response, as part of creating the TSA as part of Homeland Security. The CDC, FDA, et al kicked into action early. The 2009 version of the 1918 flu was not as deadly as feared, but stockpiles were depleted in response.

Obama in December 2014 spoke at the CDC in an effort to get the GOP to increase funding to support dealing with a deadly airborne disease in 5, or 10 years, but majority leader Sen McConnell refused to allow increase funding for a future pandemic, much less research and development to stop it quickly.

Trump et al, then dismantled a good bit of what Bush built, and Obama used to deal with multiple deadly disease threats, even as McConnell rushed to explode spending, deficits, and debt.

The the failure was not the regulatory state, but the GOP deregulatory state which focused on the threat of non-white people coming to the US, while ignoring the threat of deadly airborne disease coming to the US.

You don't need masks and gloves to keep out non-white people.

How does that explain Governor Brown of California dismantling the stockpile created by Governor Schwarzenegger?

It doesn't. Another mistake, though of a much smaller nature.

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On that CDC though:

"Jaw-dropping to read that the German success re the coronavirus pandemic was based on U.S. research that was ignored or dismissed by the U.S. government"
https://twitter.com/GlennKesslerWP/status/1274056283575005187?s=19

(I tried to link directly to the Washington Post article, but it's doing something stupid, like when I'm over my limit it won't even let me copy URLs)

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And while we are doing the travails of the CDC and the "regulatory state" here is another not insignificant factor:

"Dr. Anthony Fauci says it's 'frustrating' Americans are ignoring science amid coronavirus pandemic"

https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2020/06/19/dr-fauci-frustrated-americans-are-ignoring-science-amid-coronavirus.html

I hurt myself following the science ...

Don't wear a mask!
Wear a mask!
Surfaces are dangerous!
No they aren't!
Asymptomatic people are infectious and scawy!
Asymptomatic spread is rare!

Whew!
Now which science should we trust?
What's the latest?

This should not be hard.

Science is at first conjecture, and then study, and improved consensus.

The cycles we've had of conjecture and study and proof or disproof are exactly how science works.

If you try to opt out that just means you stick with random ideas .. like chloroquine both before you should and longer than you should.

Actually, from the beginning, the scientists told you correctly, the truth, but you didn't want to hear. What they said was "We don't know yet because it's too new and too soon."

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Who's getting fired over this? Somebody should lose their frickin job over this decision.

Hopefully, we wait until *after* the investigation to fire someone. Facts and all that.

Oh, yeah, I don't mean arbitrarily firing someone. But it shouldn't be a long process. I you make that kind of mistake in a private business you are probably out the door in a couple of day. Why should it take months/years to fire a public employee? This isn't a criminal trial, it's just holding someone responsible for their actions.

OTOH, I don't completely trust whistle-blowers either. Particularly in the Age of Trump.

Yeah, especially since that guy what's his name that heard from a guy who heard from a guy that something might have happened somewhere.
Except nothing happened. 😭

What was that non-whistleblower's name again?

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No one will be fired over this.

The whole system is set up to make sure no one is actually accountable to the public.

lol, firing people is so common there's a Wikipedia page for it:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Trump_administration_dismissals_and_resignations

What, you're just trying to set the expectation that dismissal can never be for bad performance?

Just telling the truth about investigations?

The whistle-blower will be fired. :)

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Of course, the TSA was created to give travelers the illusion of safety. Why would employees of an agency created to give the illusion of safety wear masks and gloves that would give the reality of danger. Duh.

Flying requires trust, trust that the aircraft is safe. Boeing has proved without doubt that the aircraft may not be safe, and that Boeing not only knows it but chooses a design for an aircraft knowing the design is unsafe because it's cheaper than a design that is safe. Our companies are failing us.

Right, that's why the TSA was created, after all. Those damned faulty airplanes steered themselves right into the World Trade Center.

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How quickly we forget that the TSA was created because of the failure of private security organizations hired by the airlines to detect and intercept the weapons brought on board by the 9/11 hijackers. Our companies were failing us.

Boxcutters?

I believe the FAA guidance to aircrew and passengers pre-9/11 was to cooperate with hijackers (heck, it probably still is).

The passengers on UA 93 were violating the FAA rules when they decided on their own to attack the hijackers and brought the plane down in a field in Pennsylvia instead of on the Capitol Building in D.C.

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Yet, since its inception, TSA has never detected more than half of the weapons sent through screening in controlled tests. In 2017 a few places had 95% failure rates.

I would take my chances with pre-9/11 security any day over this farce.

A 50% detection rate is certainly high enough to deter most terrorists from bringing detectable weapons onto planes. Allocating more resources here would not be efficient. All it would lead to more guns forgotten in gym bags turning up.

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All kinds of mood affiliation showing up here, including in the original post. What is the regulation in question here? Are we confusing a management decision with regulations? Is every management failure now a regulatory failure?

There is clearly a management failure here and several people who directly made the decision should be fired.

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Hard to tell. OSC declared itself to be openly partisan at the outset of the Trump adminstration, so its finding carries no significance. There's of course been a long series of "whistleblowers" who turned out to be balls and politically motivated, so I'd be curious to know more about Brainard. If be surprised if he really has any evidence actually showing that TSA agents acted as carriers; where would he get such evidence that wouldn't have already been made public? My guess is that his complaint simply theorizes that they might have, but he's trying to spin it as broadly as he can before details emerge.

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The regulatory state isn't a term referring to the regulations we have, but about the group of people in charge of designing and enforcing regulations. We can define a failed regulatory state, even when the regulations are perfect, but the enforcement is uneven and corrupt.

In this specific case, the transportation security administration is making us actively less safe than if they weren't there. You are more likely to catch coronavirus and die from it than you are of getting killed by threats they normally stop.

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And as I think about it ... I don't see from MR any references to the failure of the regulatory state when the Police brutalize people. I see calls for police reform, but why don't we refer to that also as a failure of the regulatory state? (Of course, I may stand corrected, but even so, such reference would be an exception).

"I don't see from MR any references to the failure of the regulatory state when the Police brutalize people. "

There were, this article for example:

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2020/06/our-regulatory-state-is-failing-us-3.html

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As always with MR, there's no regulation in this apparent story of regulatory failure.

News flash: if you have an incompetent president, who gives stupid orders and incoherent signals, and who fills his administration with bootlickers and idiots, you get a surplus of news items like this one.

If

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Obama is out of office.

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President Trump on Tuesday nominated David P. Pekoske, the former Coast Guard vice commandant, to be the next administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.Jun 7, 2017

Another poor hiring decision. The list at this point is practically endless. Or were these orders coming from the very top? Was the Trump administration trying minimize the response to this in hopes it would just go away. That was certainly what the public pronouncements indicated.

The orgs are intransigent by design, and swapping heads makes no difference.

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> Or were these orders coming from the very top?

LOL at the thought of President Trump micromanaging anything.

Yes, there was a lot of fair condemnation from the Left that Trump was ignoring the details, not listening and not spending enough time on the actual job. But now the refrain has jumped to a far less credulous position that Trump is deliberately controlling all these much lower level decisions.

Either he's a detail guy or he's not. You can't have it both ways. And frankly the overwhelming amount of evidence is that he's not a detail guy.

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Ignoring conditional probabilities and basing the risk weighted bank capital requirement on that what’s perceived risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what’s perceived safe, is about the worst regulatory failure in history… but it shall not be named.
http://perkurowski.blogspot.com/2016/04/here-are-17-reasons-for-why-i-believe.html

Nothing seems to work. No regulatory oversight at meatpacking plants and nothing is done to stop the spread. Maybe more properly said, the regulatory agency seems to be captured by the industry it is overseeing, but the reaction of the meatpacking companies does not seem to be oriented towards stopping COVID spread!. Do we have examples of where a non-regulated regime has responded to the COVID crisis well? We do seem to see some areas where a regulatory/government response HAS been successful (New Zealand, some Canadian provinces, Vietnam, South Korea) and others where a "regulated" industry has failed miserably (Nursing homes in many countries). So guess I have a problem with the premise of the title of this post.

Do we have examples of where a non-regulated regime has responded to the COVID crisis well?

A number of companies started to cancel trips and encourage workers to telework before official stay at home orders were made.

Also manufacturing reconfigured work.
https://www.industryweek.com/talent/article/21128191/safety-product-manufacturer-sends-employees-home-to-make-masks

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"Our regulatory state is failing us": the word "regulatory" is redundant.

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Ask not what the regulatory state can do for you:
Ask what YOU can do for the regulatory state!

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Having heard the story on the radio this morning, and now reading the passage quoted by Cowen, I'm going to get tangential with a complaint about the writing.

Start reading that first paragraph, slowly. Notice that until you get to the last line, you don't know if this is a proven fact or an allegation by someone. The thing that sticks in your mind is not "TSA employee alleges unsafe practices", but "TSA engaged in unsafe practices".

This doesn't seem like good journalism. Shouldn't we be told that something is alleged but not necessarily proven before that something is presented to us, especially on the radio, where the first part of a long sentence presumably registers more strongly than the later parts.

It's NPR. They have a distinct bias. Though they are far more professional about it than most other outlets.

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Really? TSA staff were not equipped with masks, reused gloves dozens or hundreds of times, and the TSA didn't install shields. So as a purely factual matter, TSA engaged in unsafe practices. If you want to somehow argue it wasn't deliberate, go ahead and try, but the fact remains.

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Is it a Straussian reading to suggest whistleblower Jay Brainard did something wrong and became a whistleblower so he wouldn't be fired?

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This entire argument, along with many of the comments, is just so flawed from the start. The Trump administration was trying to downplay the pandemic and pretend it wasn't a big deal, especially during the crucial months of Jan - Mar. How do I know? Because Trump officials are on record saying so over and over. So of course the TSA did not want to, in their view "alarm the public" with basic precautions. To somehow ascribe this to "the regulatory state has failed us" is disingenuous. It's a red herring. TSA officials knew these measures would protect workers and the public, but they deliberately withheld them, because they were "going along" with the administration's desire to whistle by the graveyard.

Even if that's true, it doesn't change the point that the person(s) who made the decision to not give out the masks should be fired.

That I agree with. And by "the person" you mean Trump, correct?

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From your friend, Alex & Tyler.

Protesting against everything lumière - enlightenment .

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So, how many people at the TSA were infected because of these decisions. How many people did they infect? Isn't this relevant information. Any numbers at all are important since they are what is used to determine whether or not the decisions were good or not.

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US bureaucracies failing??

Wait until you find out about this Department of Defense and its $4 trillion money pit in Afghanistan/Iraq for the past two decades.

Can the poor performance be related to poor guidance AND lack of funding? Maybe that $38 billion/10 year welfare annuity Israel gets from the US taxpayer could be redirected.

Don't defund cops, defund welfare high maintenance/low benefit welfare queen countries.

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Why is America's state capacity on par with Albania's? (Maybe that's an overestimate of America).

I'm sure it has nothing to do with the government making diversity its #1 priority, to the exclusion of more prosaic concerns like basic competence.

For any autistic libertarians who might contest this point, please realize that even a moderate leftist in 2020 would denounce a founding father who time-traveled to The Current Year as a vile neo-nazi in a wig.

America is basically done at this point. The question is, what's next? I suspect that whatever it is, it will involve a lot less democracy.

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Tyler Cowen is a highly intelligent and nice guy. But why will he complain about TSA inadequacy and lack of job competency, but not the US Border Patrol?

By one estimate, about 1 million people a year cross into the US illegally through the southern border.

Why not demand a successful performance by the US Border Patrol?

Too many regulatory failures, so little time.

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I’m sure this is somehow Ted Kennedy’s fault

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Sorry to upset your ideology but it’s not the regulatory state that’s failing us.

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And realize also that any 2020 rightest who time-traveled to 1776 would be moving to Halifax to better suck up to an insane chief executive.

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I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier.

Here’s what I do…...........

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I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier.

Here’s what I do….................. Bizprofit9.com

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Per TSA's own records, approximately 1.4 percent of TSA employees have tested positive for the corona virus. This appears to be much lower than the overall US population. Are TSA employees not being tested, or was the lack of masks not really a factor in the overall infection rate?

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Is the problem in the US opportunity cost? Seems like those left to work in public sector jobs aren’t the best because opportunity cost has pulled others away into more growth oriented private sector jobs. The more attractive your private sector, the worse run your public sector. Any truth to that claim?

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This is not the typical ORSIFU story. This is a government agency that did not follow cost-benefit analysis in how it conducted it's own business.

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