CLOSE
TSA Blog
TSA Blog

What Does The TSA Do With Your Confiscated Stuff?

TSA Blog
TSA Blog

Reader Aly, returning from a trip, asks, “What does the TSA do with all those confiscated items? Mostly, they confiscated my shampoo and I want it back, but I am also curious.”

The Transportation Security Administration confiscates all sorts of stuff—which they call “Voluntary Abandoned Property”—at security checkpoints, from handguns and knives to shampoo bottles that are just a little too big for their liking. Where’s it all go? You might assume that TSA screeners just pocket what they want and take it home, but that’s not normally the case. The TSA says it maintains a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to theft, and getting caught with abandoned property is grounds for termination. 

Instead, your confiscated goods usually meet one of three fates: they can be sold, donated or disposed of. 

The TSA is prohibited by law from profiting from items surrendered to them, but other government agencies’ hands aren’t tied the same way. Stuff that could potentially be resold is turned over to the states, who flip what they can in government-run surplus centers and online auction sites like eBay or GovDeals. The return on this isn’t half bad, and the state of Pennsylvania says it made some $800,000 in revenue from re-selling confiscated property online between 2004 and 2012. 

Other stuff is donated to local non-profit organizations, schools and government agencies, who can either use it—scissors might go to underfunded schools, mace might go to police departments or academies—or sell it. 

Aly’s shampoo and most other prohibited liquids and chemicals are simply thrown out. These used to get donated or sold, but the TSA stopped doing that when they realized the liability risk. That shampoo might not really be shampoo, or a water bottle might not be full of actual H2O, so it’s safer and more efficient to just dispose of whatever it is. 

That leads us to another question: If your more-than-3.4-ounce container isn’t allowed on the flight for fear of you blowing up the plane, why is it okay in a trashcan in the airport? According to the TSA, the issue isn’t any one container of liquid, but someone using liquid explosives and other components to make an explosive device on the plane. Without all the other necessary components to complete the bomb, the liquid in the trashcan, on its own, is considered less of a threat. 

Weapons and other select items have their own protocols. If someone tries to board a plane with a handgun on them, for example, local law enforcement is called to investigate, and may take the weapon and arrest or cite the person who had it. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Does the Sergeant at Arms Do?
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Donald Trump arrive for a meeting with the House Republican conference.
Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

In 1981, shortly after Howard Liebengood was elected the 27th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate, he realized he had no idea how to address incoming president-elect Ronald Reagan on a visit. “The thought struck me that I didn't know what to call the President-elect,'' Liebengood told The New York Times in November of that year. ''Do you call him 'President-elect,' 'Governor,' or what?” (He went with “Sir.”)

It would not be the first—or last—time someone wondered what, exactly, a Sergeant at Arms (SAA) should be doing. Both the House and the Senate have their own Sergeant at Arms, and their visibility is highest during the State of the Union address. For Donald Trump’s State of the Union on January 30, the 40th Senate SAA, Frank Larkin, will escort the senators to the House Chamber, while the 36th House of Representatives SAA, Paul Irving, will introduce the president (“Mister [or Madam] Speaker, the President of the United States!”). But the job's responsibilities extend far beyond being an emcee.

The Sergeants at Arms are also their respective houses’ chief law enforcement officers. Obliging law enforcement duties means supervising their respective wings of the Capitol and making sure security is tight. The SAA has the authority to find and retrieve errant senators and representatives, to arrest or detain anyone causing disruptions (even for crimes such as bribing representatives), and to control who accesses chambers.

In a sense, they act as the government’s bouncers.

Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin escorts China's president Xi Jinping
Senat Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin (L) escorts China's president Xi Jinping during a visit to Capitol Hill.
Astrid Riecken, Getty Images

This is not a ceremonial task. In 1988, Senate SAA Henry Giugni led a posse of Capitol police to find, arrest, and corral Republicans missing for a Senate vote. One of them, Republican Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon, had to be carried to the Senate floor to break the filibustering over a vote on senatorial campaign finance reform.

While manhandling wayward politicians sounds fun, it’s more likely the SAAs will be spending their time on administrative tasks. As protocol officer, visits to Congress by the president or other dignitaries have to be coordinated and escorts provided; as executive officer, they provide assistance to their houses of Congress, with the Senate SAA assisting Senate offices with computers, furniture, mail processing, and other logistical support. The two SAAs also alternate serving as chairman of the Capitol Police board.

Perhaps a better question than asking what they do is pondering how they have time to do it all.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
What Makes a Cat's Tail Puff Up When It's Scared?
iStock
iStock

Cats wear their emotions on their tails, not their sleeves. They tap their fluffy rear appendages during relaxing naps, thrash them while tense, and hold them stiff and aloft when they’re feeling aggressive, among other behaviors. And in some scary situations (like, say, being surprised by a cucumber), a cat’s tail will actually expand, puffing up to nearly twice its volume as its owner hisses, arches its back, and flattens its ears. What does a super-sized tail signify, and how does it occur naturally without help from hairspray?

Cats with puffed tails are “basically trying to make themselves look as big as possible, and that’s because they detect a threat in the environment," Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant who studied animal behavior and human-pet relationships as a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, tells Mental Floss. The “threat” in question can be as major as an approaching dog or as minor as an unexpected noise. Even if a cat isn't technically in any real danger, it's still biologically wired to spring to the offensive at a moment’s notice, as it's "not quite at the top of the food chain,” Delgado says. And a big tail is reflexive feline body language for “I’m big and scary, and you wouldn't want to mess with me,” she adds.

A cat’s tail puffs when muscles in its skin (where the hair base is) contract in response to hormone signals from the stress/fight or flight system, or sympathetic nervous system. Occasionally, the hairs on a cat’s back will also puff up along with the tail. That said, not all cats swell up when a startling situation strikes. “I’ve seen some cats that seem unflappable, and they never get poofed up,” Delgado says. “My cats get puffed up pretty easily.”

In addition to cats, other animals also experience piloerection, as this phenomenon is technically called. For example, “some birds puff up when they're encountering an enemy or a threat,” Delgado says. “I think it is a universal response among animals to try to get themselves out of a [potentially dangerous] situation. Really, the idea is that you don't have to fight because if you fight, you might lose an ear or you might get an injury that could be fatal. For most animals, they’re trying to figure out how to scare another animal off without actually going fisticuffs.” In other words, hiss softly, but carry a big tail.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios