The Department of Homeland Security released new international aviation security directives last Friday. In Washington, a Friday (especially Good Friday) release always raises red flags. Even more curious, the press statement also announced the release of a “Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment.”

Why the two initiatives were released at the same time is baffling. With most of the country’s attention on how the Administration is improving international security screening protocols, this announcement is a bit like hearing from your doctor that he’s found a cure for your cancer and your athlete’s foot too.

While assessments like this are needed, this one is seven years too late and merely a repeat of ideas and efforts that are ongoing at the department. Stealing a proclamation from Ernest Hemingway, who stole from Ecclesiastes, this assessment proves there is nothing new under the sun.

Not to be too dismissive or sounding like a Washington cynic, the report does elevate to the top of the recommendations list the need for a periodic risk analysis of the transportation system. Also near the top of the list are other necessary, but reconditioned, ideas, such as the need for appropriate methodologies to measure risk, the need for a long-term grants strategy, and a tool to measure the effectiveness of security grants.

Risk assessments and creating tools to measure risk continue to languish at the department. There are ongoing efforts but a lack of attention from leadership has not moved this effort beyond its infancy. It could be that this assessment is a signal from the Administration that its leadership is ready to move risk management to the top of the department’s priority list.

If this is truly the intent of the assessment, then the Administration should be commended. If this isn’t the assessment’s purpose, then my condolences to the very young former campaign worker who wasted a weekend cutting and pasting. Considering the manner of its release and that fact it is buried deep in the White House Web site, the Administration is admitting that this assessment isn’t a big bleeping deal.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More