What’s with members of Congress beating up on the front line officer’s of the Department of Homeland security in recent days? Yesterday contributor Chris Battle wrote about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s tirade against ICE agents on this blog, and this morning the Washington Post details Rep. Pete DeFazio’s impatience with transportation security officers in Portland, Oregon and just last week it was Senator David Vitter’s antics at Dulles that made the papers.
The men and women on the front line of DHS are everyday heroes, just like police officers, firefighters and school teachers. They have tough, sometimes dangerous jobs. What motivates them to show up every day and take verbal abuse and rudeness from the public is their love of country, call to service, and commitment to the mission — protect the homeland.
Rep. DeFazio was caught complaining about TSA’s random gate screening procedures. Increased gate screening was written about in USA Today this week as well. Why would TSA deploy officers to the gate area after passengers have cleared the checkpoint? Well, unpredictable, flexible layers are key to achieving risk-based security. That way a potential bad guy never knows for sure where they will encounter security. That is why you sometimes see officers patrolling the sidewalk at the entrance to the airport, or a canine team in the lobby, or why employees sometimes face random checks if they have access to the secure side of the airport beyond the checkpoint.
In the security business it is not always possible to explain the entire rationale publicly, but rest assured there is a method to what may appear to be madness. In this case, there is likely additional rationale behind screening at the gate.
The Department of Homeland Security is actively engaged in the business of intelligence and information sharing with federal and global partners. Most of this activity goes on out of the public view. At TSA, intelligence and information sharing drive security operations. Even TSA’s forward leaning approach to public education and use of new media are aimed at engaging the public as part of the agency’s overall security strategy. It bears repeating that the men and women of Homeland Security are focused on the details of securing the homeland nearly eight years after 9/11 so the average American can go about their business without having to worry to the degree that they did immediately after 9/11. That is a luxury we sometimes take for granted.
The officers on the front line are doing their jobs. The flying public should treat them with mutual respect. Rather than demanding special treatment to skirt the laws and systems that they helped put into place, Members of Congress should recognize their responsibility to help the show the general public that we all live in different times in this post-9/11 world.
Ellen Howe formerly served as Assistant Administrator of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs at the Transportation Security Administration. She is now a Vice President at Adfero Group.