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TSA Shows Why "Public Option" Isn't

Government doesn't like to be optional.

By Petrarch  |  March 22, 2011

The political Outrage-of-the-Month has moved on to public-sector-union greed and intransigence, but the depravities of the TSA continue apace as the protests die down.  Although several states are working on legislation to define TSA sexual assaults as felonies, those laws haven't passed yet and the TSA is determinedly moving its predators into previously-safe venues like trains.

For a brief, shining moment there appeared to be a way out: the original law creating the TSA allowed airports to opt out and use private screeners instead.  Starting with Orlando's Sanford airport, non-perv airport directors formed a line to do just that.

Then the hammer dropped.  As the Washington Post reported:

The Transportation Security Administration plans to stop allowing airports to hire private contractors to conduct passenger screening, according to recent statements on the agency's Web site.

A Monday post on The TSA Blog said the agency "is still accepting applications, but unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges in the future, the requests will not be approved." [emphasis added]

Government's view of their "customers".

In other words: to leave the tender mercies of the TSA, you need their permission.  Why on God's green earth would anyone expect them to release even one victim?  Game, set, match.

Of course, the TSA wouldn't put it that way.  Aside from the usual lies about the TSA being "agile, high-performing organization that can meet the security threats of today and the future" which anyone who's been to an airport in the last decade knows to be arrant nonsense, they also claimed to be cheaper than private contractors to the tune of 17%.  In a time of trillion-dollar deficits, that's a fairly compelling argument.

Compelling indeed; but, as revealed by Congressman John L. Mica (R, FL), the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, it's a bald-faced lie.

The TSA made it appear that it was more cost effective for airports to use federal government workers for security “by increasing the costs for private-contractor screeners relative to federal screeners,” the auditors wrote.

“GAO found that TSA ignored critical data relating to costs,” Congressman Mica stated Wednesday.

Mica suggested that even the revised cost difference was still to high because it does not acknowledge “the full cost of TSA’s bloated and unnecessary bureaucratic overhead.”

“I am confident that the private sector can not only perform better, but do so at a lower cost to the taxpayers,” Mica added.

How did they get the numbers so wrong?  Apparently, the TSA only compared actual salaries without accounting for benefits - which as everyone now knows are famously more lavish for government employees than for anyone in the private sector.

When you add those in, the costs are pretty much the same, and that's for the employees on the ground.  Include, as Congressman Mica said, “the full cost of TSA’s bloated and unnecessary bureaucratic overhead,” and it's inconceivable that the TSA would even be in the same ballpark.

To any ordinary taxpayer, that's a pretty plain "clear and substantial advantage" to hiring private contractors, even setting aside the question of sexual predators in uniform.

But to Scragged, it's yet another illustration of why there can be no such thing as a public option.

Hiding Costs and Capturing Customers

When you go buy a shirt at Wal-Mart, the cost is crystal clear: it's printed right on your receipt, along with the sales tax.  That's what it costs, and that's what you pay.

The same is true for every other commercial product or service, from the smallest bolt to an entire airplane.  Last week, Boeing sold five new 747-8i planes to Air China; the total list price would be around US$1.54 billion.  Air China probably got a discount, but whatever it was, they know to the penny what the bill will be and Boeing likewise knows what they'll receive.

Even in the government that's true, when the government is using private contractors.  Every government contract of any size goes out to competitive bidding, with a maniacally detailed statement of what's required.  The bidders must assemble a proposal that meets the requirements and say how much they'll charge.

When a contract is signed, it's legally enforceable under both commercial law and the Federal Acquisition Regulations.  Somewhere, the government has a list of all the contracts it's signed and what they'll cost; sometimes they can be canceled, but in most cases surprises are rare.

Why does this work?  Because the two entities - buyer and seller - are at arm's length.  It's easy to tell what the seller is providing; it's easy to tell what the buyer is paying.

When the government itself does the providing, though, cost analysis becomes impossible.  How much overhead is there, really?  Agency X doesn't own its own buildings, those are provided by the GSA.  Office supplies and equipment are bought from an approved GSA price list, which looks like a great discount and it is - except that it doesn't include the overhead cost of setting up the GSA list and policing it.  As Congressman Mica discovered, government employee pensions come from a different system entirely and won't appear under the cost budget of a given agency, even though any commercial contract has to include the costs of pensions and everything else.

The result is that, when it's politically useful, government-provided services can falsely be made to look way cheaper than anything else because the true costs are hidden elsewhere all across the unfathomably massive Federal budget.  That's how they hide $100 hammers and suchlike.

A Bullet Dodged, For Now

Recall the whole reason given for why we needed Obamacare so urgently that there wasn't even time to read the bill?  Because the costs of health care were crushing Americans.

We now know that, far from saving money, Obamacare will cost a fortune and destroy the healthcare system we already have, such as it is.  Naturally, the left wanted to provide a "public option" - that is, a way for people to choose to buy health insurance directly from the government instead of from a private company -  but it didn't manage to get that in the bill.

Thanks to the self-serving lies of the TSA, we can clearly see what would have happened if they had.  Private insurance companies have no choice but to charge enough to cover their costs, which thanks to the onerous Obamacare mandates are enormous.

The government, though, has no such problem.  A government "insurance option" has a multitude of ways to hide the true costs, so as to offer rates so low that no private company could compete.  Any rational employer will naturally pick the cheap government option; in a short time, private health insurance would be no more.

Then, and only then, the true costs would be made apparent, but by then it would be too late.