"Let's do it like the Israelis," is the retort many people fed up with TSA airport screening provide when you ask them for suggestions on a better system. I've posted on the "Israeli system" before and mentioned the high costs of such efforts but the Washington Post's Dan Milbank has actually crunched the numbers.
In a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, Israel uses profiling, background checks and extensive interviews to filter out the highest-risk fliers, who are then subjected to searches of luggage and person more invasive than anything the Transportation Security Administration has conjured. The air security argument has been about whether Americans would prefer Israeli-style profiling to the current system of body scans and pat-downs. But this overlooks a more fundamental problem: The Israeli system, even if it could be scaled up, is out of our price range.It's even more curious when you consider that most of the folks demanding such a change are against bigger government or consider the government a big, bloated, bureaucratic animal.
El Al, Israel's national carrier, reported spending $107,828,000 on security in 2009 for the 1.9 million passengers it carried. That works out to about $56.75 per passenger. The United States, by contrast, spent $5.33 billion on aviation security in fiscal 2010, and the air travel system handled 769.6 million passengers in 2009 (a low year), according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That amounts to $6.93 per passenger.
The analogy isn't perfect, because security is largely handled by the airline in Israel and by the government here. (In both countries, the government pays just under two-thirds of the security costs.) But this rough comparison indicates that Israel spends more than eight times as much on security per passenger. To duplicate that, the United States would need to spend an extra $38 billion a year.
And that might understate the cost of staffing the nation's sprawling air travel system with highly skilled interrogators; Israel, after all, has only one major airport. In Foreign Policy magazine, Annie Lowrey calculated early this year that if each passenger flying through a U.S. airport were subjected to 10 minutes of questioning by a guard, we would need 3 million full-time guards, at a cost of more than $150 billion a year.
There may be ways that the TSA screening process can be improved, but it is clear that "doing it like the Israelis" isn't going to work given the current fiscal climate in the United States.
-via Bark Bark Woof Woof