Last week, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing reviewing TSA screening procedures 10 years after 9/11. The buzz word of the hearing was “risk-based.” This has been characterized in some reporting as TSA’s newest screening strategy. In fact, risk-based screening has been attempted at TSA and DHS for years.

The “news” is TSA’s public re-commitment to risk-based screening after several check-point screening miscues went viral. Public confidence in TSA waned when it blamed standard operation procedure for the pat-downs of small children and the infirm. The public and Congress bristled at this one-size-fits-all attitude towards screening. To its credit, TSA recognized it strayed at the checkpoint from its fundamental security philosophy.

The testimony and opinions voiced at the hearing suggested that depending on which seat one occupied, the understanding of “risk-based” varied. TSA may have opened up a can of worms in its attempt to rehabilitate its credibility by emphasizing its risk-based approach. Travelers experience unpredictability-based anxiety the minute they walk out their door: Will there be traffic? Will there be a line for the kiosk? How long is the security line? Is the flight on schedule? The weather in Chicago and Atlanta?

Human instinct pushes us to remove unpredictability from our lives. In our society, confidence and competence rejects randomness. We strive for certainty in all aspects of our lives because certainty represents security. Yet, the DNA of a risk-based system embodies randomness and unpredictability.

TSA’s success in rehab will be determined, in part, by how it manages traveler’s expectations. Especially when those travelers do not believe they are personally a threat to aviation. In practical terms, travelers should never expect to be screened in one particular manner. They should continuously be forewarned.

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
  • Fisher1949

    So some fliers, who pay a fee, will now get to be
    sexually assaulted sooner than the occasional flier. This sounds like legalized
    extortion. Maybe Pistole has decided that some people are “more
    equal” than others. No civil rights implications there.


    It is also very generous of him to let children keep
    their shoes on while having their privates groped by a TSA screener. That
    should help reduce the level of psychological trauma to the child.


    So when a child turns 12 their shoes, that were no
    problem the day before, suddenly become a terrorist threat? The stupidity of
    this agency is stunning. They make up idiotic rules, then contradict them and
    fail to recognize how foolish they look.


    This agency is a sick joke and nothing more than a jobs
    program for misfits who enjoy harassing people. If it wasn’t for TSA giving
    them this perverse job most of them would be in prison.


    TSA needs to be replaced with something that actually
    works and those responsible for this farce prosecuted, especially the chief criminals,
    Pistole and Napolitano.

    TSA Crimes & Abuses