Government waste reaches new lows with TSA contraband

Most Americans recognize that wastefulness is pervasive in the federal government. By now, revelations that once generated disbelief and anger garner a defeatist shrug.

But some cases still can make us shake our heads in dismay.

Have you ever wondered where all the stuff goes that Transportation Security Administration personnel confiscate at airports, while they’re safeguarding us from the threat of bottled-water bombs or exploding hair gel containers?

Somewhere, we suspect, vast warehouses are stacked to the rafters with all the confiscated contraband, one section holding pallets of suspicious shampoo bottles, another, millions of potentially deadly cuticle scissors.

Some resourceful folks in Salt Lake City did more than just wonder about this, though; they arranged to have volunteers from local charities pick up unopened, still perfectly safe and usable contraband and distribute it to those in need.

It was creative. It was resourceful. It made good sense. And other airports were thinking about following suit.

That’s probably why the federal government put a stop to it, demanding that all the confiscated materials be destroyed.

“For several sweet months, volunteers would gather the (confiscated) goods and deliver them to people in need — from the homeless at shelters to displaced family members fighting through abuse or abandonment,” The Salt Lake City Tribune reported.

“Beverages were a big hit for the kids at the Ronald McDonald House. And personal-hygiene products helped the capital’s most needy cleanup before a job interview at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake. All of that has ended now. Federal transportation bureaucrats decided donating the sealed items — even though nary a tainted product nor other security problem ever was reported — was too risky. Liability and all.”

“There’s just something that didn’t feel exactly right,” said TSA’s security director in Salt Lake City. “Nobody knows what they are … even though they were sealed,” added a spokesman for TSA in Washington. “You are talking about thousands of items collected each day. If we could continue it, we certainly would. But all it would take is just one item that could be a harm to somebody that would be a huge liability to this organization and the taxpayers.”

The manager of a Salt Lake City rescue mission called the decision ridiculous. He would be willing to sign a liability waiver, he told the newspaper, if that would make the feds feel better. “You have this bureaucracy stifling the local ingenuity of people here in Salt Lake,” he said. “Government is watching over us too closely.”

That sums the situation up pretty well, we’d say — in more cases than just this one.

Most of these TSA procedures are pointless and wasteful — they’re meant to provide the illusion of added security, responding to threats of the past, while huge vulnerabilities lie elsewhere, largely unaddressed.

But we might be better able to tolerate the hassles of air travel in the post-9/11 world if we knew that when that officious TSA security person confiscated that umpteenth bottle of contact lens fluid or orange juice, it might be going to a good cause.

Now, all these potentially usable items, instead of helping the homeless or the poor, get hauled to a landfill. But what’s a little more waste, given the grand scale on which the federal government squanders resources?