This past Monday, I attended a Blogger’s Roundtable with Secretary Chertoff and TSA Administrator Kip Hawley to discuss aviation security initiatives. While the Secretary’s prepared remarks focused on the flurry of activity the Department is doing with General Aviation security (which I think is a step in the right direction), the discussion soon drifted to the usual set of issues – Secure Flight, Registered Traveler, shoe screening, unionization of screeners, transition activity, lines at airports ….and the list goes on.
I attended the Roundtable hoping to hear a discussion around TSA’s much publicized Advanced Technology (AT) deployment at the checkpoint and the lesser known Project Newton activities the agency is undertaking with regard to the screening of checked baggage. After all, two of TSA’s biggest mandates following 9/11 were to screen 100% of all checked baggage on aircraft and to professionalize the screening process that occurred at the checkpoint.
However, when I asked about TSA’s work on Project Newton and the widely talked about desire of the agency to transition away from the use of Explosive Detection Systems (EDS) to screen checked baggage to AT-like systems, I received a brief response along the lines of – “we’re taking into account the best science has to offer.” That not only struck me as short answer to a complex question but quite a different answer than ones given by agency officials in the past who have always unequivocally endorsed the use of EDS technology to screen checked baggage. But now, with little public knowledge, TSA is spending millions of dollars on re-examining the current standard by engaging three national labs and forming a Blue Ribbon Commission to review its findings. The results could change dramatically the way in which baggage is screened today. To me this topic deserves robust discussion given the critical impact it could have on improvements made after 9/11 which gave the U.S. the best aviation security in the world.
I hope in the weeks ahead the agency begins to talk more openly about their plans in this regard and begins to talk to the aviation security technology industry as it will be the industry’s challenge and mandate to innovate to meet what may turn out to be new screening requirements.
As transition activities commence at DHS and its component agencies (such as TSA), I hope this issue is front and center when the team begins to review policies in the aviation security arena.