A review of the air marshals program reveals how Transportation Security Administration “money gets wasted basically fighting the last war,” its watchdog said Wednesday.
Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth told Congress its recent review of the $800 million-per-year program found that TSA doesn’t make budget decisions based on its analyses of potential risks.
“So things that are low-risk, for example, still, notwithstanding the change in the risk environment or the intelligence that they receive with regard to terrorist activity, their budget does not change in accordance with that,” Roth said.
An unspecified part of the air marshal program could be “discontinued” and its “funds could be put to better use,” according to a brief, two-paragraph unclassified statement released publicly last month. The full report remains classified.
The TSA did not respond to a request for comment on the report or Roth’s comments.
The inspector general’s assessment is the latest blow to the air marshal program, which has its roots in an effort by President John F. Kennedy to stem a string of airplane hijackings in the 1960s. It grew in size and prominence after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and the creation of the DHS and TSA, which runs the program today. But its ranks are believed to have thinned in recent years, as TSA deployed additional screening practices prior to boarding an airplane and as the events of 9/11 grow more distant.
In September, the Government Accountability Office concluded TSA can’t accurately say how effective the air marshal program is at deterring attacks.
“TSA does not have information on its effectiveness in doing so, nor does it have data on the deterrent effect resulting from any of its other aviation security countermeasures,” GAO wrote.
A 2015 CNN investigation found many air marshals struggled with depression, stress, suicidal thoughts and lack of sleep. At least 10 committed suicide, and more abused alcohol or medications.