News broke recently that the
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) contracted the development of an iPad app called the
Randomizer that eliminates any hint of profiling by airport security by simply
directing travelers according to an arrow onscreen that randomly points left or right. That’s it.
No, really. An arrow that points left or right. At random. Over and over.
The cost? $1.4 million.
Yes, that’s dollars.
Naturally, the Internet sprung into outrage. “OMG! $1.4 million?!!! For THAT???”
I get it. That cost is absurd for what amounts to nothing more than a dream job for Two-Face.
The reaction was predictable. Add four cups of a smug Internet eager for an easy target, two cups of implicit
assumption of widespread government waste, one cup of pervasive TSA resentment for making you take off your shoes when you’re running late,
two tablespoons of a technology
everyone can understand, and one teaspoon of government contracting complexity, and you have a recipe for perfect Internet
outrage. The app was so simple and the story so easy that
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
did bits on it. When it comes to public embarrassment, there’s bad, and then there’s late-night-talk-show-bit bad.
Of course the truth is a lot more complicated. The first shoe to drop was that journalists completely misunderstood the contract. TSA
clarified that the $1.4 million figure refers to the entire contract vehicle. The amount dedicated to the Randomizer itself
was a mere $47,400.
But isn’t that still way too much for an app that randomly points left or right?
Yes, but not by much and not for the reasons you might think.