Seizing on the spirit of change spreading around the globe, the U.S. Travel Association, along with the Blue Ribbon Panel for Aviation Security, recently issued its recommendations for overhauling the security screening experience for passengers in a report titled “A Better Way.”

The Associations’ way does warrant discussion and could form the starting point for change. The report highlights key areas of the current security system that could be fixed by employing common sense measures.

Improvements to our aviation security need few new ideas. Rather, as the report implies, wholesale change requires intrepid leadership.

The report’s recommendations fall under three main goals. Arguably the most important goal represents the first step before change can be made: the implementation of a “well-defined risk management process.” This recommendation makes the point that a risk management process would not only bolster security; it could inform the public that passenger screening applies a thoughtful process.

Bereft of details, the report merely encourages “convening an external panel of experts” to perform this task. The Administration has not been able to complete this task. Few in Congress may know what a risk management process entails. An independent panel, free from political concerns or territorial in-fighting, may be the best mechanism for creating a tool to assess and measure risk.

The cusp of the recommendations – likely the purpose for the report – promotes a Trusted Traveler Program or something akin to the extinct Registered Traveler Program. Advocating the benefits of a voluntary, government-run program that filter seemingly good people from bad, the authors do not offer a screening process markedly different from the one today. These “trusted travelers” would not divest shoes or jackets or coats, a small benefit for the price of the program.

Registered traveler or trusted traveler programs have never resolved how background checks and personal information determine intent on any given day, obviating the need for a thorough physical search before boarding an aircraft. To address this problem, the report intimates that the public could use an attitude adjustment regarding our acceptance of risk.

Applying the Kip Hawley metaphor recounted in the report, any Trusted Traveler program granting a pass on parts of the physical screening process requires TSA and Congress to reset the risk-management needle. In real terms, passengers will have to tolerate the probability that a program participant(s) will do harm. Only a thorough risk analysis can help inform the public’s willingness to accept that risk.

The report rightly argues that aviation security needs an overhaul. Almost 10 years since the 9/11 Commission Report, a comprehensive review and study of its tenants could spark needed policy and legislative changes. Laudable for advocating change, “A Better Way” could generate renewed interest among policy makers for tackling much needed changes. If nothing else, the report provides a good outline for policy makers and a starting point for a more comprehensive overhaul effort.

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
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  • Anonymous

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