Steve Chapman

If you're an air traveler who feels the urge to pull your hair out every time you enter a security line at the airport, you may have considered taking Amtrak or even the bus instead. If so, you may want to scratch that idea. The Transportation Security Administration, you see, is showing up in train terminals. Perhaps you'd rather drive?

TSA has not shown itself to be exceptionally useful for thwarting terrorism. It has never caught a terrorist in its airport checkpoints or anywhere else, as far as anyone knows. But the bureaucratic urge to expand cannot be easily suppressed. Lacking evidence of its value in airline terminals, TSA is branching out to other places where it can be equally ineffective.

The agency "has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals," reports The New York Times. Its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, created in 2005, now gets $100 million a year, "and is growing rapidly, increasing to several hundred people and 37 teams last year, up from 10 teams in 2008," the Times says.

In 2012, it conducted some 8,800 unannounced operations outside of airports, or 24 per day. No, it's not requiring concertgoers and train passengers to take off their shoes and empty their pockets, but give it time. And never mind that local and state law enforcement agencies used to take responsibility for these venues if they were needed.

Maybe the change of scenery will keep some workers out of trouble. The federal Government Accountability Office says that cases of employee misconduct jumped by 26 percent from 2010 through 2012 -- everything from sleeping on the job to letting people bypass screening. Last year, an agent at the Newark Liberty International Airport was convicted of stealing $800,000 worth of laptops, cameras and other goods.

Humans being humans, any organization staffed with them will have its share of crooks. But you'd think an agency that has "security" in its name would be especially vigilant in preventing and detecting internal wrongdoing. GAO, however, said TSA doesn't keep track of how all the misconduct cases turn out and has no process to ensure they're handled correctly.

The more pertinent problem, however, is that once established, the agency can't be eliminated. On the contrary, it has a strong tendency to grow. In 2003, Congress limited it to a maximum of 45,000 employees, but -- I know this will surprise you -- that restriction was later lifted. It now has 58,000.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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