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US Transportation Security Administration hit by criticism from regulators and industry

TSA Administrator, John S Pistole
TSA Administrator, John S Pistole

Within the past 24 hours, US security measures, and particularly the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), were confronted by two influential policy bodies. The security processes, which have encountered a great deal of criticism and publicity of late, appear to be attracting more notice and evaluation by regulators and industry constituents.

Congress is unhappy

First, during a subcommittee meeting in Washington, Republicans were scathing in their comments on the TSA and recent public dissatisfaction. John Mica, a Republican from Florida and Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in discussing the newly employed full-body scanners said that, "The equipment is flawed and can be subverted”, noting that Committee staff members had been able to do so in tests.

Also coming under fire were the pat-downs that have become an increasing part of the process. "There are many of us who believe this would be deemed a sexual assault on a person," said Utah’s Jason Chaffetz and Darrell Issa of California opined that getting caught was not a concern amongst those “willing to blow themselves up.”

TSA Assistant Administrator for Security Technology Robin Kane responded that the technology is vital and that “the threat is everywhere”, but his arguments appeared to gain little support.

In a direct challenge, Issa continued by stating that, "This committee has serious doubts about the effectiveness, efficiency and authority of some of the things that you are doing".

And across town

The US Travel Association, accompanied by a panel of security and travel experts, released a report, A Better Way: Building a World Class System for Aviation Security, that is the result a year-long effort. The research revealed that travelers are shunning air travel due to the hassle and inconvenience imposed by security. Their estimate was that the cost could be as much as USD85 billion and up to 900,000 lost jobs. They called on Congress (see above) to work towards three specific goals:

  • Improve TSA checkpoints, shorten wait times and screen on the basis of risk.
  • Add efficiencies across the board and make the agencies involved more cooperative.
  • Restructure the nation’s approach to aviation security through the development and implementation of valid risk management tools.

Panel by Tom Ridge, a former Secretary of Homeland Security

The panel was created by the USTA at the behest of the former Homeland Security Secretary, Tom Ridge, along with former Congressman Jim Turner and Sabre’s CEO Sam Gilliland. The panel included a broad cross-section of industry experts as well as representatives of groups adversely affected by the present system.

The group was critical of “the ever-changing policies set by Congress and an unwillingness to date to embrace risk management” and said that TSA officers were often blamed for simply doing the mandated tasks.

As might be expected of a group with diverse interests and perspectives, there was acknowledgement of the complexity of the problem and the panel did not always find consensus.

To do list

Nonetheless, they did come up with some very specific goals.

  • Implement a risk-based trusted traveler program. Doing so would allow greater focus on those who may pose a greater threat.
  • Improve the preparation of travelers by disseminating more information about screening earlier in the booking and planning process.
  • Encourage fewer carry-ons. The panel attributed the increased complexity of the process in part to bag fees that increase carry-on luggage. In a move that will doubtless generate an airline response, they recommended that one free checked bag be included in the ticket price and that all be more diligent in reducing hand baggage.
  • Reduce repeat screening of those arriving on International flights and connecting to domestic services.
  • Allow frequent international travelers to enroll in the US trusted traveler program.
  • Give TSA full authority in the checkpoint area and reduce confusion of security “ownership”.
  • Develop a comprehensive technology procurement strategy and make certain that programs are funded for the life of program rather than year-to-year.
  • Develop and implement well-defined risk management processes.

The group urged Congress and the administration to move towards implementing the suggestions, citing polls that indicate Americans are quite displeased with the present arrangement and many have cut back on travel to avoid the system.

Roger Dow, President and CEO of USTA, closed by saying, “When combining the staggering economic consequences of the current system with the widely held views of the traveling public – and with the American way of life hanging in the balance – the picture becomes clear.  We must find a better way and build a new traveler-focused system for aviation security.”

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