Republicans love defense and their 9-11 fetish means they love air travel security even more. I guess they have lost that loving feeling because Sequester is going to gut air travel security.
Cuts to TSA and FAA have been well publicized. But what hasn't been talked about are cuts to one of the most important and least publicized areas - air security intelligence. For obvious reasons I am going to proceed in careful, general terms but let me say this - security will be degraded.
For better or worse, the monitoring of air travel and the no-fly lists associated with it have become a huge enterprise. And its not just the no-flys. There are selectees, "additional screeners" and folks who do dumb/suspicious things at regular screening. Sometimes no-flys are waived so we can observe them better. Sometimes they are waived so we can get them into the US to be arrested. But nothing is automatic. Everything is analyzed and considered. A large number of those who look at the problem are now staring at furlough do to sequester. In my own area it means a maximum of 64 hours a week. While that might not seem like that big a cut it is huge when you consider we are 24/7. For us every day is the same. Weekends are when your two days are, not Saturday and Sunday. My team works 6 on, 4 off on a rotating Days, Mids, Swings schedule with your first "day off" being at the end of a 9pm-5am shift. With Sequester each person will be required to sit out two 8 hour shifts a week. But the mission continues. Bad people are not going to stop being bad because I dont have someone to watch them. Our solution? We are going to fill gaps with military because we can work them as long as we want. This is not a good idea.
Watching bad people is a long term proposition. Over time an analyst builds up a mental database of what right looks like so that when something isnt right, they notice. Maybe they dont know exactly what is different, but something is. Maybe its a series of small things that point to a bigger one. Maybe is normal activity suddenly stoping. Maybe its noticing a trend that builds slowly over many months. What ever it is, it takes time to build the knowledge base and when you stop building you get worse at your job. Sequester is going to effectively cut 1/3 of the "data acquisition" time for my analysts. That doesnt make them 1/3 less effective, its worse. There is a tipping point where you become ineffective. You have too many gaps to know what is going on. You lose the feel, the rhythm of what is going on. When I was in Afghanistan we counted on someone being ineffective for a week after they were gone for 2 weeks on R&R. If Sequester lasts a month, it will be 3 weeks before my team will be back to 100%. Longer than that and it might take 6 months. And those are just the first order impacts. Two of my best folks are already looking for other jobs. They have lives and bills and retirement to think about and they no longer feel they are in a good place to ensure that. If they go they will take years of knowledge with them, knowledge I cant replace. I can fill in with soldiers but eventually they are going to burn out. When you are tired you make mistakes, you miss little things, you forget names, you forget places. Mistakes have costs.
I hate TSA screening as much as anyone else and the thought of TSA being killed off gives the traveler in me great joy. But I also know how many times a day a TSA employee pulls someone out of line because of information we give them. Every day bad people are attempting to enter this country. We dont always know why but we know they wish this country ill. And has been said many times before, we have to be right 100% of the time while the bad people only have to be right once. Now the odds of them getting it right are going to go up. Blame who you want but dont say you were not warned.