Did the TSA spend $1.4 million on a randomizer app?


While many travelers have signed up for TSA PreCheck, which allows for quicker security screening at airports in the United States, the TSA has also allowed some regular travelers to end up in the PreCheck lanes through managed inclusion. How do they manage this? Through a randomizer app that determines which line the passenger should get into.

A randomizer is the fairest way to assign passengers to the different lanes while ensuring that there’s no discrimination taking place. However, programmer Kevin Burke is a curious person, and he wondered just what the TSA was using for this randomization.

He filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to learn more about this app. What he found was astonishing. The TSA has paid IBM a total of $1.4 million for an app that Burke says “a beginner could build in a day”.

Head over to Kevin’s site for the full analysis as well as all of the information he received.

Now I think the government does a lot of great things, but this looks like a case where our taxpayer dollars are not being well spent. Certainly, an in-house developer could have done this for much less. While Burke does say that it’s possible that some of this money went into the iPad hardware where these apps were installed, or even other apps, none of those things are specifically mentioned in the FOIA information he received.

The TSA claims to Mashable that only $47,000 of this $1.4 million was spent on the randomizer app. However, no further explanation of the spending is provided, so we are left wondering how exactly our money is being spent. The department hasn’t been known for its truthfulness in the past, but even $47,000 is a lot for such an easy app, even when taking into account some design and project management.

Unfortunately, this sort of waste happens all the time, especially when government departments are limited by who can submit bids. As a result, this can result in big name, well-connected companies winning bids that look outrageous. At least some this information is publicly available (well, after a long delay), so we have some insight into what takes place thanks to curious people like Kevin Burke, but it leaves us with even more questions.

Oh, and to top it all off, the randomizer app is no longer being used, after “a convicted felon and former member of a domestic terrorist group” was randomly selected for the PreCheck lane.

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