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Large TSA Fine Prompts Question: Is Strict Compliance The Order of the Day?

Last week, U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett announced a $1 million fine against OHL Solutions for intentionally failing to screen cargo in accordance with TSA rules. The TSA investigation began in December 2010, and this fine was not a shock to many observers – even before that investigation began, several of us noted that serious TSA enforcement actions seemed just around the corner.

This fine was imposed in a case of intentional violations and seems warranted, particularly in view of the risk to the public as a result of the company’s wrongdoing. But this enforcement action does give rise to the following problem. If you have ever read a TSA model security plan, which contains the nitty-gritty of the rules that TSA imposes on companies, then you might have asked: “How is it possible to comply with the letter of the law?”

The TSA security plans are unwieldy and sometimes convoluted beasts – tough reading even for detail-oriented lawyers. Daily compliance with every nuance could be hard for even the most diligent of companies. Surely TSA does not intend to start imposing large fines on such diligent companies.

TSA may have some work to do in providing guidance about what type of compliance will keep a company out of harm’s way. Alternatively, TSA might spend some time making the security plans a little less unwieldy.

Stephen Heifetz blogs primarily on aviation, transportation and maritime security, immigration and border security, and homeland security policy. He is a partner in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson, LLP , where he helps clients navigate laws and policies at the nexus of international business and security. Read More