The TSA spent $1.4 million on an app that selects you for screenings

TSA Struggles to Ease Screening Snafus
TSA Struggles to Ease Screening Snafus

"How much does the TSA pay for an app that a beginner could build in a day?" technologist Kevin Burke asked in a recent blog post.

$1.4 million, it turns out.

The app in question is the Transportation Security Administration's randomizer app, used to select passengers for the comparatively quicker precheck security screenings.

Burke submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how much the Department of Homeland Security paid for the simple randomizing tablet app. He was shocked to learn the IBM-commissioned iPad app cost the department $336,414.

But that's just the beginning. The total cost of the project — including things like training and the tablet devices themselves — appears to have been $1.4 million.

As you can see in the video below, tablets equipped with the randomizer app are attached to pedestals near the front of airport security lines. The app has a fairly simple user interface; the TSA attendant simply hits the screen, and an arrow indicates which line a patron should stand in.

While $1.4 million may seem like a lot, it's worth noting that app development often costs as much as a million dollars, according to app developer Savvy Apps.

Even so, the IBM award seems a bit much for an app that could theoretically be built in a day. The excessive price tag for a government-commissioned piece of tech shouldn't come as much of a surprise: Past studies have found the government tends to pay more for contracted work than it would if it hired the staff to do projects in-house, according to the New York Times.

Mic has reached out to the Department of Homeland Security and is awaiting comment.