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Christopher Elliott Headshot

Is The TSA Worth Saving (POLL)?

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If you're upset by the TSA's clumsy efforts to protect us from airborne terrorists -- and let's face it, who isn't? -- then you may have missed the good news last week.

Big changes could be coming to America's least favorite federal agency.

Rep. Paul Broun's (R-Ga.) calls for TSA Administrator John Pistole's resignation gained some traction in Washington. Broun has called Pistole "totally incompetent" and believes he and Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano need to be let go.

Not enough, says Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky.) who is about to introduce a bill to pull the plug on the entire agency. Paul, who had a scrape with the agency earlier this year, says the agency can't be salvaged.

"Every inch of our person has become fair game for government thugs posing as security as we travel around the country," he says.

At the same time, my government sources tell me the winds of change are blowing at the Department of Homeland Security. They say the TSA is preparing for an unspecified, system-wide reorganization that could represent the biggest restructuring of airport security since 9/11.

Right now, any change would be welcomed by travelers. It's difficult to exaggerate the TSA's misdeeds, from misinterpreting its mandate to protect America's transportation systems, to arbitrarily removing vital, implicit travel freedoms to which every American is entitled, according to its critics.

But what should we do?

Is a system-wide reform -- removing Janet Napolitano, John Pistole and restructuring the agency -- the right move? Or do we need to eliminate the TSA, once and for all?

Even the most ardent TSA supporters say reform may be necessary. They agree that the agency has become bloated and bureaucratic and overreached its mandate when it began screening motorists and subway commuters, patting down grandmothers and young girls and subjecting the rest of us to untested X-ray scanners.

The latest call for reform came this weekend from Flight Wisdom, a popular airline blog that isn't exactly known for taking extreme positions, at least when it comes to airport security. It demanded a makeover of the TSA and suggested that at the very least, Blogger Bob should lose his job. Flight Wisdom says the agency's mouthpiece, who likes to crack an occasional joke online, isn't that funny. It's certainly not alone in that assessment.

But others are taking TSA reform more seriously. Alaska State Rep. Sharon Cissna may be running for Congress on a platform of TSA reform, for example.

"I've thought about it a huge amount, and I've talked with -- gotten letters from more than 2,000 people wanting to talk about that very subject," she told an Alaska radio station. "Most of them haven't wanted it to be a big public thing, because it hits people really close."

Simply revamping this beleaguered federal agency may make money sense. American taxpayers have spent more than $8 billion to create an agency to protect its transportation systems, and unraveling it and starting from scratch would represent a huge waste. (What would they do with all those spiffy blue uniforms?)

Meaningful reform would also send a message to anyone with terrorist intentions: that American airport security wasn't as big a joke as its critics thought it was, that whatever "security theater" was being performed, it still provided a powerful deterrent. And that yes, it's fixable.

But that may not be enough for some. Indeed, anyone who has been frisked, scanned or (ahem) subpoenaed by the TSA, may favor a more radical approach. Sen. Paul, supported by his father, presidential candidate Ron Paul (R.-Tex.) believe the only way to fix the TSA is to end it, once and for all.

Specifics of the End TSA bill are still sketchy -- it is currently being drafted -- but it's a safe bet that the bill, if passed, would do exactly what it says.

The Transportation Security "Officers" would disappear from the airport, probably replaced by private security guards. The body scanners would be unplugged and scrapped. The massive government infrastructure that many say is hopelessly corrupt would vanish, and oversight would go to another agency within Homeland Security, perhaps to Customs and Border Protection.

For many TSA critics, this is the only acceptable solution The TSA represents a shameful chapter in this nation's history that must be put behind us, they say.

For them, TSA will be always be associated with paranoid secrecy, crime, institutional arrogance and unnecessarily violent screening methods they've described as "gate rape." They would end the TSA for the same reason a unified Germany pulled the plug on the Stasi, the feared government security service -- because it simply can't be redeemed.

Change is coming. It must come. And it's not too soon to also ask if the TSA is worth saving.