By Scott W. Winchell – SUA reported on the use of TSA officers in a joint operation on Tennessee highways several months ago. The question is, upon the creation of the TSA, what legal authority allowed the Executive Branch any sort of permission or wrote any overt intent into law that would allow them to act as sworn and trained police officers, anywhere, especially outside any airport?

It seems that the Obama administration, through Secretary of DHS Janet Napolitano, has done what is becoming commonplace in this administration, expanding the powers of the Executive Branch beyond its Constitutional constraints. Taking legislation and through twisted logic, expanding them well beyond the law’s intent.

This administration will take any loophole and expand it into a wide chasm where regulations are created, powers are bestowed, or seeds are planted for further usurpation of power. It seems that mere words can create these vast twists. The term “Transportation Safety” Administration has seemingly given them that opening since it was not just “Airport Safety” Administration. Transportation is a broad term, and they are expediting and expanding into areas definitely not the intent of the original legislation.

This is akin to self-determining when the Senate is or is not in session to make recess appointments. The administration has and will continue this usurpation of power they once decried so vehemently of the Bush administration. Is this what we have been hearing about, an Obama private national police force?

Rep. Blackburn writes about this phenomenon below, and SUA congratulates her for raising the issue to a higher level. Now we need to get Congress and the Supreme Court to act again. But this is what this administration depends upon. They know it will take years to change, but by then, who knows how far this will be taken. This reminds us of the old adage, “its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”

When the TSA was formed, and likely to be unionized if Obama wins a second term, the vast majority of the people in these positions where euphemistically former “fry cooks”.

"Paul Blart" - Napolitano and Obama bring "Mall Cops" to a highway near you?

Through our lives, we have all seen the “Mall Cops”, or “Gramps with guns” patrol our shopping centers and parking lots, many armed. Movies have been made poking much fun at them, mostly in the lowest forms of jest, but unfortunately, this latest expansion of power is no laughing matter. TSA is loaded with “Paul Blarts”, not funny!

As Blackburn points out, these “Mall Cops” are often much better trained than any TSA officer, yet, Napolitano has created the appearance of legality and power by creating elaborately uniformed ‘officers’. How is the general public supposed to know the difference when confronted by a TSA officer on a highway?

If you, in personal life, gave even the impression of impersonating a police officer in any way, shape, or form, it would be your own handcuffs on your wrists.

The TSA Is Coming To A Highway Near You

By Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)

One of the great honors of my service to Tennessee is having the opportunity to represent Ft. Campbell which is home to the storied 101st Airborne, the 5th Special Forces Group and the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment which piloted Navy SEAL Team Six during the raid on Osama Bin Laden.

Each soldier who calls Ft. Campbell home has gone through some of the most intensive training on the planet which pushed their minds and bodies to their physical limits. In the end, those who make the cut have earned the right to be part of our United States military, are honored to wear its uniform, and are serving on the frontlines in the fight against global terrorism.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our nation’s Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) who Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano contends are our nation’s last line of defense in fighting domestic terrorism. Unlike “hell week” which faces potential Navy SEALs, becoming a TSO requires a basic level of classroom and on the job training. In many cases this rigorous training is less severe than the requirements of becoming a security guard in most states.

Believe it or not, only 7 years ago, TSOs went by a more deserving title, “airport security screeners.” At the time, their title and on the job appearance consisted of a white shirt and black pants. This was fitting because airport security screening is exactly what’s required of the position. However, this is no longer the case.

In the dead of night, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administratively reclassified airport security screeners as Transportation Security Officers. The TSA then moved to administratively upgrade TSOs uniforms to resemble those of a federal law enforcement officer. They further completed the makeover with metal law enforcement badges. Not surprisingly, government bureaucrats at the TSA left out one crucial component during the artificial makeover – actual federal law enforcement training as is required of Federal Air Marshalls.

While TSOs may have the appearance of a federal law enforcement officer they have neither the authority nor the power. If a passenger brings a loaded gun or an explosive device into an airport screening area there is nothing a TSO can do until the local police step in to save the day.

If TSOs are truly our nation’s last line of defense in stopping an act of terrorism, then the TSA should immediately end the practice of placing hiring notices for available TSO positions on pizza boxes and at discount gas stations as theyhave done in our nation’s capital. Surely, this is not where our federal government is going to find our brightest and sharpest Americans committed to keeping our traveling public safe. I would contend that we can surely strive for a higher standard and may want to look first to our veterans returning home from the battlefield.

Interestingly enough, as TSA officials like to routinely point out, their agency’s acronym stands for Transportation Security Administration, not the Airport Security Administration. This fact has extended the TSA’s reach far beyond the confines of our nation’s airports. Many of my constituents discovered this first hand this past fall as those familiar blue uniforms and badges appeared on Tennessee highways. In October Tennessee became the first state to conduct a statewide Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) team operation which randomly inspected Tennessee truck drivers and cars.

VIPR teams which count TSOs among their ranks, conduct searches and screenings at train stations, subways, ferry terminals and every other mass transit location around the country. In fact, as the Los Angeles Times has detailed, VIPR teams conducted 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year alone. The very thought of federal employees with zero law enforcement training roaming across our nation’s transportation infrastructure with the hope of randomly thwarting a domestic terrorist attack makes about as much sense as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s Environmental Justice tour.

In order to help rein in the TSA I introduced H.R. 3608, the Stop TSA’s Reach in Policy Act aka the STRIP Act. This bill will simply overturn the TSA’s administrative decision by prohibiting any TSA employee who has not received federal law enforcement training from using the title “officer,” wearing a police like uniform or a metal police badge. At its most basic level the STRIP Act is about truth in advertising.

As TSOs continue to expand their presence beyond our nation’s airports and onto our highways, every American citizen has the right to know that they are not dealing with actual federal law enforcement officers. Had one Virginia woman known this days before Thanksgiving she may have been able to escape being forcibly raped by a TSO who approached her in a parking lot in full uniform while flashing his badge.

Will the STRIP Act solve every problem facing the TSA? Absolutely not. The STRIP Act seeks to expand upon the work of my colleagues by chipping away at an unnoticed yet powerful overreach of our federal government. If Congress cannot swiftly overturn something as simple as this administrative decision there will be little hope that we can take steps to truly rein in the TSA on larger issues of concern.

Furthermore, if Congress fails to act do not be surprised if the TSA gives TSOs another administrative makeover in the future. Only this time it won’t be a new uniform. It will be the power to make arrests as some TSOs are already publicly calling for.


Congressman Blackburn is a Republican serving Tennessee’s 7th district.