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A Better Way – Ridge Headlines Plan to Strengthen TSA

An industry group released a report advocating for major changes in how the federal government tackles its aviation security mission. Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, former Democratic Congressman Jim Turner, and Sabre Holdings CEO Sam Gililland served as co-chairs of a panel of external experts advising the U.S. Travel Association on the report, which I helped research and develop over the past year.

Secretary Ridge and Congressman Turner appeared at a Washington Post live event to discuss the report, and the Post printed an excellent article on the proposals.

Among the 14 major recommendations are:

• Development of a true risk-management Trusted Traveler program with real background checks on applicants coupled with an alternative screening process for these low-risk travelers, paid for by the applicants;

• TSA control of the entire checkpoint area to maximize efficient use of the space, which would likely end the lines dedicated for first-class or premium frequent flyers who have not successfully enrolled in the new Trusted Traveler program;

• Requiring airlines to include one checked bag within the base airline fare to discourage passengers from clogging the checkpoint with bags they are willing to be screened through the much more effective and cost-efficient checked baggage systems;

• Transitioning the TSA Administrator position to a five-year term that would extend across administrations, akin to the FBI Director post;

• Development of a pilot program to allow the bags of low-risk international travelers, which have been screened abroad, to be transferred to a connecting domestic flight without additional rescreening; and

• Enhanced focus on development of international standards for deployment of screening equipment to improve industry capabilities and ensure minimum screening of international flights.

Surrounding these particular concepts is a broader theme that the political climate in which DHS and TSA operate needs to change, by encouraging Congress to utilize risk management tools and decisions in the aviation security arena, as it has in most other security environments. TSA’s budget, for example, has increased almost 70 percent since FY04, although domestic travel has been flat. When passenger travel increases significantly, as projected by the DOT, how will TSA handle the traffic in their current “one-size-fits-all” screening program?

In today’s budget and tax environment, TSA cannot rely on continued large increases in TSA’s budget or new involuntary taxes. As the title of the report indicates, we have to find “A Better Way.” The concepts appear to be well-aligned with Administrator Pistole’s own planning, but we will see whether Congress and the media are willing to embrace a new view of the risks and rewards in aviation security ten years after 9/11.

C. Stewart Verdery, Jr., Founder and Partner at Monument Policy Group, LLC, has played a major role in a wide range of fields in Washington, D.C. for two decades. From high-ranking government positions to counseling private sector and political clients, Verdery has impacted issues in fields as diverse as technology and telecommunications, homeland security and law enforcement, international trade and commerce, and intellectual property. Read More