Once when I was flying, TSA confiscated my daughter's toothpaste. She was very confused why some big, uniformed man was taking her kids toothpaste holding it at arms distance with rubber gloves. Here's my fictional account of our conversation. I protected her identify by changing her name. I protected my identify by making myself an unbearably daft uncle.
Really though to explain to a child why their 4 oz toothpaste is confiscated there's some pretty challenging topics to cover:
That what might be in a toothpaste bottle might not be toothpaste but merely masquerading as toothpaste.
That in fact it may be something dangerous
That someone may deliberately do this to cause harm
That there is a somewhat arbitrary assessment of risk with a cut-off of 3 oz
That these rules were made by the government or farmed out to a government contractor through the Federal Acquistion Requirements.
---------------Fictional TSA Toothpaste Account------------
“Uncle Mitch, why did that man take my toothpaste”?
“I’m sorry Lucyloo, it was my fault. I bought you toothpaste that was too big to take on the plane. We can buy you more when we get to Atlanta and meet your folks.”
“The man took it because it was big? Does he need to brush his teeth?”
“No, no, sweetie. Nothing like that. You just can’t bring any liquids on the plane that are larger than 3 oz”.
“So small toothpaste is ok?”
“Yes, small bottles for liquids are ok on planes. Including toothpaste”
“Is toothpaste a liquid?”
“Sort of, I guess. It’s liquidy, right?”
“Why can’t you bring large toothpaste on the plane?”
“Well, you could if it were definitely toothpaste, but it might not be toothpaste. It might be pretend toothpaste. So there’s a rule that someone made saying it has to be less than 3 oz.”
“Why would you have pretend toothpaste? And is 3 a special number?”
“Not exactly. It’s sort of arbitrary. Do you know that word? Maybe it would be better if you asked your parents about this. No? Well they had to pick some number, right? So maybe it was like Goldilocks, 4 is too big, 2 is too small. And pretend toothpaste is ok, but not if it is actually gasoline in the toothpaste tube, right”.
“3 is just right?
“Yes, exactly. It was probably decided by a committee or the government may have asked a contractor to do an assessment”
“Oh right, well, groups that help the government. Remember when we had a picnic in front of that building that said Booz Allen Hamilton? Well they’re a contractor”
“So they help the government make rules about toothpaste?”
“Not about toothpaste exactly, but yes, about liquids on planes and risks of stuff. It would depend what was in the RFP”.
“That’s just what the government uses when they want work done. And then another group responds to the government’s request and the government selects them”.
“Is that how they chose Boo?”
“Boo? You mean Booz Allen Hamilton? Yes, or it could have been someone besides Booz Allen Hamilton or it could have been sole sourced. You know your Aunt Janet is a federal contractor – she could tell you more about the Federal Acquisition Requirements than I can.”
“Does Aunt Janet know about Booz?”
“Ha. Yeah a little bit I suppose. But there’s lots of groups like Booz. They call them the Beltway Bandits”
“Aren’t bandits the same as thieves?”
“Well its just a saying. The contractors bid on RFPs. So no it isn’t stealing. It’s possible that the government did the assessment itself and wrote the report”.
“Will that man give my toothpaste to Boo”?