In recent weeks, I have been asked by many people, from friends and family all the way to the Secretary of Homeland Security, what kind of person I think should be nominated to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This opening has caused more than the usual level of interest in a government position. The interest level was increased when a bipartisan group of eight senators wrote the administration, asking that a new TSA Administrator be chosen.
So, what kind of person should be nominated?
First thing is that he or she should be someone who can understand this basic truth, a truth I shared with both Kip Hawley and John Pistole, who each held the position during my time heading ACI-NA: No one wants their job.
That’s the basic truth the administrator must understand. All over DC, people are plotting how to get this job or that, figuring out how to show they can do some job or another better than the incumbent. No one is doing that to the TSA Administrator. That’s not to say there are not critics; there are plenty. But no one else wants the job. So, whoever gets picked should understand that and just do the job to the best of his or her ability. There is no need to protect himself or herself against job seekers. I think both Hawley and Pistole understood this, though Pistole operated in an environment more conducive to taking new paths, especially on risk-based security. The new person, and all who follow, must understand this.
Second, and just as important, is that the new TSA Administrator should engage with stakeholders. This sounds easy, but it is not. What do I mean?
At one time, TSA felt like inviting folks in for an occasional briefing or showing stakeholders drafts of policies the day before they were released (which qualified as consultation). The result, too often, was policy that didn’t make operational sense and a growth in cynicism among stakeholders, especially in the airport sector. This was the environment I found when I first got to ACI-NA. It was bad.
So what changed? What changed is that we sat down with TSA and explained that we wanted the same thing they did: effective policies and procedures that would make operational sense and be successful. We also explained that when they showed us a draft of something the day before release, or even earlier, it was too late. It is human nature to think that if you are being shown a draft the deal is done and a box is being checked. Let us help you draft it in the first place.
To TSA’s credit, over time they came around on these things. Perhaps it was the success of our joint reaction to the liquid bomb plot in 2006, which had to be briefed and implemented, literally, overnight. We had to work together, since the timeframe for response was hours, not weeks or months; there was almost perfect consultation in those first days.
Regardless, over time, the walls came down, and we worked together. The volumes of calls I received from airport directors went down. Together with other organizations, we worked with TSA to review current security directives to make changes that made sense. The new administrator must do the same and build on these efforts.
In the end, airports, airlines and others have the same goal as TSA. Any problems reflect poorly on all involved, and no one wants that. By working together at the earliest possible moment, the best possible results can be achieved.
So, new TSA Administrator, understand that no one wants your darn job. No one. So just go do it, and in so doing, work closely with industry at the very front end so your initiatives can be put into place in a sensible and effective manner. There is a lot of talk about industry and regulators being “partners.” In my 36 years in DC, I have never seen another case of that being more true and necessary than is the case with TSA and the aviation industry.