What Does TSA Do With 'Voluntarily Abandoned Property'?

April 8, 2013 - 11:14 AM

With the ever-growing size of our federal government, getting answers to a simple question is not as easy as just asking. When going to an airport and being told that one has to "voluntarily" abandon your property because it was deemed to problematic (and potentially dangerous) to bring on an airplane, the logical question could be, what does the Transportation Security Administration do with all our stuff?

In consulting one of the more "recent" sources available, via the TSA's "Office of Finance And Administration": TSA MD 200.52, Care, Handling and Disposal of Voluntarily Abandoned Personal Property Collected by TSA at Airports... whoops. That's a dead link.

Moving on.

Many states have departments that handle "abandoned property" but the trail of what happens to property left behind by travellers at airports remain unclear at best. For example, one place that supposedly sells our VAP is the Maryland State Agency for Surplus Property, but when you go to their website and do a search for "Voluntarily Abandoned Property", it says "No items currently listed for sale." While there IS a fairly impressive list of items for sale, there is no information made available if those items are for sale as a result of their being "voluntarily abandoned" by the flying public.

TSA regulations do state what is supposed to happen with items "voluntarily abandoned" in their custody.

§102-41.85—What choices do I have for retaining or disposing of voluntarily abandoned personal property?

You may either retain or dispose of voluntarily abandoned personal property based on the following circumstances:

(a) If your agency has a need for the property, you may retain it for official use, except for large sedans and limousines which may only be retained for official use as authorized under Part 102-34 of this subchapter B. See 102-41.90 for how retained property must be handled.

Okay, people don't leave limos behind at the airport, but this sure seems to give the TSA an opportunity to hold onto stuff they deem they "need".

(b) If your agency doesn't need the property, you should determine whether it may be abandoned or destroyed in accordance with the provisions at FMR 102-36.305 through 102-36.330. Furthermore, in addition to the circumstances when property may be abandoned or destroyed without public notice at FMR 102-36.330, voluntarily abandoned property may also be abandoned or destroyed without public notice when the estimated resale value of the property is less than $500. The question should be how is Voluntarily Abandoned Property "abandoned or destroyed" by TSA and is there documentation proving such?

(c) If the property is not retained for official use or abandoned or destroyed, you must report it to GSA as excess in accordance with 102-41.95.

And what happens once that stuff gets to the General Services Administration?

Voluntarily abandoned personal property reported to GSA will be made available for transfer, donation, sale, or abandonment/destruction in accordance with Parts 102-36, 102-37, 102-38, and §§102-36.305 through 102-36.330 of this subchapter B, respectively. You must follow the additional provisions of §§102-41.190 through 102-41.235 and part 101-42 of Chapter 101, Federal Property Management Regulations in this title when disposing of firearms and other property requiring special handling.

Granted, the items that TSA agents deem inappropriate to allow past their checkpoints are small and insignificant, even though there was a monetary value to the owner and his or her intent to use that item.

It is troubling there is no easily-found government mechanism to track VAP online like you could track a package sent from one party to another, just in case the original owner wants their property back. And seeing how there appears to be little documentation as to what items were "retained" or "disposed of", there seems to be no easy way to know what is later being distributed to the GSA or to states for sale... and what is not.