menu

It’s a redundant headline at this point and it comes in many forms, but the gist of it is, “TSA Under Fire Again.” Chances are if you Google that phrase and insert any year between 2001 and 2016, you can find countless articles in a variety of media outlets decrying the agency for any number of reasons.

But it is the same story every time. The only thing that changes is the date of the article.

With outrageous wait times at airport security checkpoints, as well as a host of other agency issues, TSA is making headlines yet again. So why is this time any different from the others? Why does Congress seem more piqued now than the last time? The election cycle is certainly part of the equation, but with the economy supposedly doing better and fuel prices still quite low, Americans are on the move again in record numbers. Business and personal travel is up for all of the right reasons, and while those conditions are great, the fact that TSA is not keeping up with the increase in traffic is a huge concern.

But part of that concern is also a bit unreasonable, too. Here’s why.

The current budget, hiring, training and scheduling structure for TSA is a wreck, and if you put a wreck on the road and expect it to perform like an Indy 500 pace car, you’re unreasonable too.

Congressional oversight and meddling have not helped matters, nor has the fact that TSA’s budget (and other critical budgets at DHS and other everyday national security mechanisms) falls victim to a constant game of funding brinksmanship. With no stability in operating funding, how can its leadership even attempt to ramp up its activities when surge capacity is necessary?

Add to the mix a personnel system that is antiquated with rules and regulations better suited for another century than the one it is operating in, and we as taxpayers are essentially getting the system we are paying for. If you’re angry about that, you should be, but it’s a situation that exists across the federal government in terms of how bad our budgeting and employment operations are in almost every government sector. Government was never built for speed, and expecting it operate with brisk efficiency is unrealistic. But no one is going to tell you that.

Remedies to fix TSA lie in budgetary and civil service reforms that the current Congress, the current Administration and even the prospective Trump or Clinton Administrations have neither the interest, courage, or clout to execute.

No one is going to win re-election or the Oval Office championing such reforms. Instead, demonizing the agency and its employees, along with demanding resignations of every TSA leader imaginable, will create more “buzz” and name ID for the candidate(s) running to send a message to Washington. This while spurring angry voters to go to the polls with ballot, torch and pitchfork in hand.

While effective and proactive oversight of TSA and every other government mechanism is critically important and essential, so is knowing when to back off and allow people the space to do the jobs they were hired to perform. Piling on, which has become an all-too-easy past time never solved a problem anywhere. We are at that stage today.

To fix the current mess TSA finds itself in, if I was TSA Administrator, I would call the logistics and security directors of every major amusement/theme park, stadium/sporting and concert venue and ask for their insights. Each of those people knows a thing or two about getting people into and out of various venues in an expeditious manner. Each of them also understands the bottom-line ramifications of people standing around in line and becoming fatigued. That is real money being lost by the company, and if they take their business someplace else, that’s not good for their jobs. These same people also understand that if they don’t take security and screening seriously, they bring risks to their guests, their co-workers and employers. As such, they take their jobs very seriously.

As easy as many of them may make their jobs look, NONE of them screens the volume of people, carry-ons or luggage that TSA does at every major airport, every day of the week. TSA and the private sector leaders at the venues I just mentioned are both conducting screening in very different ways. Both have shared and different risks to manage, but they need to have the flexibility to adapt and operate in their ever-changing and dynamic environments. TSA does not have that today, and that is a problem

Because of their respective and distinctive environments, there are any number of lessons learned that could provide enormous dividends for the agency and private sector venue operators to share. Especially as TSA looks to reduce wait times for passenger screening without sacrificing its security responsibilities.

I know for a fact those private sector leaders are willing to help TSA because the faster they can help get passengers through the airport screening lines, the faster those same passengers will arrive at their respective venues, arenas and theaters to spend their money for a great time.

That’s a win-win for everyone.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More