Air Marshals: our ridiculously expensive clowns in the sky

March 1st, 2012

I just caught Congressman John Duncan’s recent speech about domestic anti-terrorism spending on YouTube (or if you prefer, you can read the transcript on Duncan’s website). His comments are right on the mark, and it is refreshing to see somebody in our government standing up to speak out against the “security at any cost” mindset that has gripped America.

I was especially intrigued by Duncan’s rant against the TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) program. Duncan claimed that a USA Today report asserted that more air marshals have been arrested than the total number of arrests made by air marshals (I was able to locate the article here). Considering that taxpayers are putting up nearly $1 billion every year to pay for the FAMS program, it doesn’t sound like we’re getting a very good deal.

I read some more and discovered that Congressman Duncan has been on a crusade against air marshals for awhile now. In 2009, he delivered a speech on the House floor criticizing the FAMS program for being “useless” and wasteful. Reading his speech, I was shocked to learn that while we have about 4,000 air marshals in service, the entire organization manages to average only 4.2 arrests per year.

Keep in mind that 4.2 arrests per year does not translate to 4.2 incidents of prevented terrorism—in fact, a US air marshal has never prevented any sort of terrorist attack. The 4 arrests per year credited to air marshals typically involve drunk or otherwise unruly passengers. Dangerous stuff, right? And as Congressman Duncan points out, given that the FAMS program costs $860 million per year, each of these arrests effectively costs taxpayers about $200 million. Yup—200 million dollars to baby-sit a passenger that had too much to drink.

How does this program still exist?

Undoubtedly, some of you are thinking “but maybe having air marshals on ~5% of our flights creates such a deterrent that terrorists are afraid to act?” After all, that is the same logic that Nico Melendez, a spokesperson for the TSA, uses when responding to a question about the effectiveness of the FAMS program. Basically, if there hasn’t been any attempted terrorism, then surely the program must be working, right? For those people, I leave you with one of my favorite Simpsons quotes:

Homer: “Well, there’s not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job!”
Lisa: “That’s specious reasoning, dad.”
Homer: “Thank you, sweetie.”
Lisa: “Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers?”
Homer: “Uh-huh, and how does it work?”
Lisa: “It doesn’t work; it’s just a stupid rock!”
Homer: “I see.”
Lisa: “But you don’t see any tigers around, do you?”
Homer: “Lisa, I’d like to buy your rock.”

  1. Tasteless Article
    March 4th, 2012 at 08:24 | #1

    Did they pay you 10 dollars an hour to come up with this article? When an issue happens on a plane or on the ground and you crawl under your seat or run, is it fair then to call the men and women that would take a bullet or knife for you and your family “clowns”? Since your pay grade and security clearance isn’t high enough to know all of the facts about this elite organization, you might want to continue hiding behind your pen and write about something that is true.

  2. Don H
    March 4th, 2012 at 12:45 | #2

    @Tasteless Article
    Did you even read the article? Ironic that you would complain that a fact-based article containing numerous links to sources isn’t “true”, while you offer nothing as rebuttal other than wild conjecture.

  3. D
    March 22nd, 2012 at 15:00 | #3

    Tasteless article??? You probably voted for Obama!!! Wake up and smell the roses. When a real ‘issue’ happens the captain and others that “would take a bullet…for you and your family” will probably ‘trip’ into a lifeboat (or parachute)!!!

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