<strong>In 10 years, the TSA has grown from 16,500 employees to more than 65,000, far outpacing the growth in air travel during that same period. The TSA now is larger than the combined forces of the departments of labor, energy, education, housing and urban development and state, and yet taxpayers have not been shown that their $57 billion investment in airport security has provided a good return.</strong>

Ten years ago, the nation was debating whether private companies or a public agency ought to conduct security checks at airports in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The debate never was settled. Congress decided to form the Transportation Safety Administration, but it directed the new agency to form public-private partnerships and to allow airports to choose whether to use public or private screeners.

Instead, the TSA has grown into a massive bureaucracy that ineffectively handles most of the screening, and its union has a history of intimidating airport operators who wish to take part in the partnership, going so far as to announce it would no longer expand the partnership program. This happened despite reports that found private screeners to be more effective than federal ones and that airports using the public-private partnership have better detection capabilities and customer service.

These are the findings of a report released recently by the Republican House majority. Perhaps not surprisingly, few people are willing to publicly defend the TSA, which makes headlines most often for frisking toddlers or subjecting people to machines that render images of them minus their clothing. Writing on Huffingtonpost.com, former TSA assistant administrator Justin P. Oberman came closest, lauding the agency for restoring America's faith in commercial aviation. That is hardly a convincing argument, considering many modern Americans feel they have little choice but to fly when it comes to business or recreation trips, and that reviews of TSA procedures don't inspire a lot of confidence.

Those performance reviews are kept secret, by the way. That's something the House report recommends ought to change, making them public after two years. However, enough of these reviews have been leaked to provide a dismal picture of the TSA's ability to catch terrorists. The report notes that the outcomes of these reviews has changed little over 10 years.

The report also found the TSA has failed to instal explosive detection systems at airports that see the most traffic; that a program designed to train agents to spot terrorists by sophisticated observation techniques has failed to catch even one terrorist, despite 17 known terrorists having traveled through security 24 times; and that some machines, such as Advanced Imaging Technology devices, are enormously expensive while their effectiveness is unproven.

In 10 years, the TSA has grown from 16,500 employees to more than 65,000, far outpacing the growth in air travel during that same period. The TSA now is larger than the combined forces of the departments of labor, energy, education, housing and urban development and state, and yet taxpayers have not been shown that their $57 billion investment in airport security has provided a good return, the report says.

It may not be fair to completely dismiss the efforts of the TSA. The United States has not seen a repeat of the 9/11 attacks, after all. The report, however, notes that the most publicized attempts to blow up aircraft over the past decade have been thwarted by passengers and flight attendants, not screeners.

The report lists 11 recommendations for improving the TSA and notes that Canada has seen better results through its system of employing private screeners who work under government oversight.

Given that a Republican administration and Congress established the TSA, this report carries a credibility that goes beyond the usual partisan sniping in Washington. At the least, the TSA should be forced to be more transparent and accountable. Its job is to protect flyers, not to protect its own bureaucratic fiefdom.