Government department in charge of airport security can’t stop losing their own stuff

How upset would you be if you lost your laptop computer? How upset do you think your boss would be if your company lost not one, but one thousand of them?

The loss of 1000 computers within a single government department is apparently not much of an issue, because that is how many went missing at the Department of Homeland Security in 2008.

The department is in charge of the TSA as well as Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the old INS).

During an audit, a total of 1,975 pieces of equipment could not be located, at a total valuation of $7.5 million. Included in the list of missing items are 235 night vision goggles, a $116,000 truck and 13 other vehicles.

The departments claim the number of missing items is perfectly normal and that they are “well within loss rates deemed acceptable by industry for asset accounting“. I’ll be sure to use that excuse next time I lose something.

Remember, these losses are on top of the thousands of items that mysteriously go missing from luggage of passengers entrusting their belongings to the TSA. Shipping your luggage suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. US Senator Tom Coburn has more about the embarrassing losses on his personal site.

Feds are tired of making you wait in security line

The government doesn’t want to make you miserable! Seriously. The Department of Homeland Security wants faster airport screening just as much as you do. That’s why it supports a program for screening approved, low-risk travelers coming to the United States to most international airports. The new approach has been tested for more than a year at seven airports, and screening time dropped from 10 minutes to only three.

To participate in this program, you need to be either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident — and more than 14 years old. There’s a $100 fee (which is probably worth it), and you have to submit to a background check. If you’re accepted, the customs process when you get back to the United States won’t be so bad. If all goes well, the program will eventually be open to foreigners who come from countries that have a sufficiently solid screening process.

Now, DHS, is there anything you can do to speed up all those logjams at domestic security checkpoints!

Europeans complain about U.S. travel fees

Extra fees charged by airlines, the “new normal,” are so popular that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has gotten into the game. And, bitching about these fees is equally popular, prompting the European Parliament to sound off like its members are Ryanair passengers with full bladders and no coin for the slot.

At issue is a planned $10 charge for Europeans coming to the United States. The European Parliament calls the charge unfair, saying it amounts to a new visa restriction. Enrst Strasser, a lawmaker from Austria, says that the requirements for entry under the Obama administration are even harder than they were under the previous (U.S.) government and that for us is a contradiction that we in the European Parliament cannot accept,” Austrian lawmaker Ernst Strasser told Napolitano during a special hearing with her. “We really have to insist on our European values, that European data protection laws and European civil liberties also have to be taken account of.”

Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security Secretary, calls the fee reasonable, since the United States doesn’t have an agency for travel and tourism, “unlike many of your countries,” she said of the European states. The $10 fee would be used to “fund and help tourists and travelers who wish to come to the United States.” Since budgets are constrained at both federal and local levels, Napolitano feels this is a reasonable move.

The money has to come from somewhere, and if Washington has to choose between taxing Americans and taxing everyone else, who do you think wins? Napolitano may not be an elected official, but her boss sure is. There’s a pretty clear need for travel-related revenue in D.C., and the government needs to invest in promoting visits from overseas. When people cross a border to come here, that’s a net inflow of money into the United States.

Despite European objections, the numbers suggest that this isn’t a bad idea. Foreign spending in the United States has fallen for the past year, with drops becoming particularly severe last spring and continuing without reprieve. From August 2008 to August 2009, spending by visitors from other countries fell 21 percent, marking the fourth consecutive month of declines worse than 20 percent.

When it’s time to pass the hat, nobody wants to reach into his pocket.

Gun-toting pilot gets gig back

A gun was fired in the cockpit and so was the pilot. In March 2008, on a flight from Denver to Charlotte, US Airways pilot Jim Langenhahn’s gun discharged, an action taken by his employer shortly after. Now that his 18-month disciplinary suspension is over, he’s back in training and getting ready to take to the friendly skies. The Associated Press didn’t mention whether the current program involves targets.

A federal arbitrator’s decision is what’s leading to Langenhahn’s reinstatement, but he won’t be allowed to pack heat on board. He was strapped in 2008 because of a 2002 federal law that permits pilots to carry handguns onto the plane – as long as they complete a Transportation Security Administration program that includes a week of weapons training. The law was passed following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Support from the US Airways pilots’ union helped, along with a Department of Homeland Security position that found the holsters pilots used to be faulty. The holsters, DHS found, increased the likelihood of an accidental discharge.

No room at the inn: hotels used to house illegal immigrants

Immigrants awaiting deportation may find themselves in a hotel – provided they are not violent and don’t have any sort of criminal history. The check-in program is intended to cut the cost of holding immigrants before they are deported. Last year, the United States spent $2 billion on sheltering immigrants that would eventually be sent out of the country.

So, will it work?

The cost to detain illegal immigrants in “alternative” facilities (hotels and nursing homes, which are also included in the plan) is estimated to be $14 a day – compared to more than $100 a day to detain them in jails and prisons.

What’s not clear is how this will affect the occupancy rates in hotels near the border. If all goes well, this could be exactly what an ailing hotel industry needs.