What is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a government agency which oversees the transportation systems in the United States, ranging from American ports to the 450 airports scattered across the country. With over 50,000 employees, the TSA works to ensure that these systems remain safe, efficient, and effective. Most average consumers are familiar with the TSA in the form of security screeners at airports, and the organization has been the subject of some controversy since it was established.

Lawmakers created the TSA in November 2001, with the passage of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. This act was passed in response to terrorist attacks which occurred in the United States in September 2001, causing massive loss of life and property. In the wake of these attacks, a number of laws were passed in an attempt to make terrorist acts much more difficult in the United States, and many of these laws focused on making it harder for terrorists to enter the country, as well as protecting the vital national transportation system.


Initially, the TSA was part of the United States Department of Transportation, but in 2003, it joined the Department of Homeland Security. The TSA is responsible for securing the safety of American ports, airports, highways, and rails, ensuring that planes, trains, boats, buses, and other mass transit options are safe for their passengers and for cargo. The mission statement of the TSA includes a commitment to “ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce” in the United States.

As part of its goal to maintain safety, the TSA has an extensive law enforcement program which includes Air Marshals, flight crew training programs, and other aviation safety measures. TSA inspectors also enforce the laws at American borders and ports, and carry on ongoing investigations into potential safety issues. The TSA's security screening branch is responsible for inspecting passengers and cargo to ensure that they are safe and that they comply with American laws in regards to what sorts of objects can be carried on aircraft, trains, and boats.

Transportation Security Administration officials are also responsible for creating the “layers of security” which are supposed to make it challenging for terrorists to enter the United States. This includes verification of documents and visa applications, credentialing, overseeing security procedures, screening of transportation workers, and a number of other programs.

The TSA has been criticized for hiring employees who lack experience, and sometimes enforce rules arbitrarily. TSA employees have been especially frustrating for many air passengers, who struggle with a byzantine labyrinth of prohibited items, and risk being removed from airports and planes for failing to obey TSA personnel.


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Post 2

The TSA is a colossal waste of taxpayer money. They wouldn't have caught the 9-11 hijackers, either. I've seen those jerks pat down kids in wheelchairs, for crying out loud! The horror stories about them are legion.

If Congress really wants to help the country and save us a boatload of money, it needs to disband the TSA and leave airport security to the airlines and individual airports. At least if a police officer gets rude, I can sue the city or the airport! Can't sue a federal employee.

Post 1

You want the serious answer or the sarcastic answer to this question? It all depends on where you are. At some airports, apparently, the TSA people have been told to mind their manners. They are courteous and efficient.

In other airports, they are brusque, rude, officious and clearly too pleased with their uniforms. I had a pair of quarter-inch blade manicure scissors confiscated from a manicure set I'd forgotten I was carrying. Good thing I had someone who could keep them for me. But the same agent let me through with pepper spray (also forgot I had it). Are you kidding me?

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