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The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is squandering many millions of dollars on unnecessary comfort items and decorations, failing to detect weapons and explosives at airport checkpoints, and demanding enormous investments in high-tech gear that it hopes will compensate for its palpable deficiencies, according to a report released Tuesday by US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Richard Skinner.

The report found that DHS screeners were no better at their jobs than they were during the previous audit in 2003, which, in turn, indicated that they hadn't made any progress since the days before the September 2001 terrorist atrocities.

Skinner & Co also reported very large and blatantly improper expenditures on decorative items for TSA's new crisis management center in Herndon, Virginia. These purchases were deliberately concealed as "equipment and tools," but they included $252,392 for artwork, $29,032 for art consultants, $30,085 for silk plants and flowers, and $13,861 for lamps, along with cable TV in 45 of 55 offices, seven kitchens outfitted with dishwashers, automatic ice makers, microwave ovens and costly SubZero brand Yuppie refrigerators, and a 4,200-square-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service - all for the comfort and convenience of a mere 79 employees.

The project manager, a facilities operation officer, and an employee also used a government purchase card for extra comfy office furniture and personal accessories, which included sofas, armoires, and leather briefcases, the IG said.

Meanwhile, long-established problems with screener incompetence and theft of passenger valuables continue unabated, although the TSA reckons that buying a lot of super high-tech gear will solve these problems handily. Walk-through automatic bomb detectors slated for roughly 100 airports, estimated to cost $30m, should do the trick. And the TSA is busy testing several other technological marvels, including numerous data-mining schemes, for deployment at airports, any of which might turn out to be the security magic bullet that the agency is praying for.

All that's needed now is more money. ®

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