Cities and states are making a small fortune selling items confiscated from passengers at airports.
Such items as scissors, pocket knives, and cigarette lighters are collected by the Transportation Security Administration, which then turns them over to state and local governments. Instead of discarding them, many official agencies are selling them -- often via the eBay auction site.
Consider these examples:
• Maryland sells 50-pound boxes of confiscated items for $50 each to anyone willing to pick them up at its warehouse in Jessup;
• Pennsylvania sold a 39-pound box of Swiss Army knives for $595 through eBay;
• Boulder City -- the only Nevada city without legalized gambling -- earns $10,000 a month through eBay sales of confiscated items;
• The Arkansas state surplus agency collects materials from 60 airports in 20 states, donates whatever it can, then auctions the rest over a federal website operated by the General Services Administration -- splitting the profits evenly with the GSA.
Alabama, Kentucky, Maryland, and Oregon are also among the states that collect and sell airport-confiscated items.
The whole system smacks of a scam but the TSA insists it doesn't make a dime from the deal. The agency, created after hijacked planes were used in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, follows GSA regulations in discarding property it claims was abandoned "voluntarily."
According to the TSA's Yolanda Clark, passengers have choices when told to surrender items. They can exit the security area to place items in cars or bring them to post offices, give them to people not boarding flights, or give them up. Virtually all choose the last option because they are hurrying to catch their planes, she noted.
Total value of confiscated items stretches to seven figures, making it a booming business. In fact, the federal government pays a company called Science Application International $17 million under a five-year contract to dispose of confiscated items nobody wants.
Organizing those items for sale is no easy task, since the TSA bundles everything into boxes indiscriminately. Some of those boxes weigh 50-75 pounds.
Once organized, though, confiscated items quickly become a cash cow. Last December alone, Pennsylvania reported $17,000 in profits from the sale of confiscated scissors, tools, and pocket knives.
Whether the windfall will continue depends upon government policies - and whether they will change. When the TSA started allowing small scissors and tools through checkpoints last winter, state surplus agencies had fewer scissors to sell. But several agencies compensated by placing more listings on eBay.