The travel and tourism industry would benefit from understanding how well the efforts of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) contribute to improved customer service at our nation’s airports. Fortunately, they provide this data to the Department of Transportation (DOT). They make it public along with customer service data from many domestic and international air carriers. This analysis shows some of the impacts before and after the introduction of Pre-Check.

The TSA has been operating its Pre-Check program since October 2011. It is a voluntary passenger pre-screening program offered at a large number of U.S. airports and is a key component of the agency’s intelligence-driven, risk-based approach to security. The program is designed to enhance security by placing more focus on pre-screening individuals who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying. It is also designed to expedite the travel experience. Given that, I wanted to see whether this program has had a positive or negative impact on the types of complaints TSA receives.

Using customer service complaint data, we can evaluate how well our government is operating in certain areas. For the time period of November 2009 through January 2015, using regression analysis, I was able to evaluate the relationship among a number of variables, including total passengers screened (by month) and the number courtesy, processing time, and screening procedures complaints. Indicator variables were also developed for when TSA implemented Pre-Check, when TSA received a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on passenger screening complaints, and when TSA deployed 500 advanced imaging technology units at airports nationwide. In most cases, there was a lack of statistical significance.

For my most robust model, courtesy complaints were the dependent variable. Number of passengers screened and an indicator variable for when Pre-Check was implemented (October 2011) were my dependent variables. Both of my dependent variables were significant and positive at the 99% confidence level and my adjusted R2 was 0.26. In other words, the results suggest that as the number of passengers screened increased, the number of courtesy complaints increased. There was a more pronounced affect after the introduction of Pre-Check than before it.

Another robust model was courtesy complaints received before and after June 2012. This date was chosen as it was when GAO completed their analysis on TSA screening complaints. This 2012 report shows that from October 2009 through June 2012, “TSA received more than 39,000 screening complaints through its TSA Contact Center (TCC).”

For this model, both of my dependent variables were significant and positive at the 99% confidence level and my adjusted R2 was 0.27. In other words, the results suggest that the number of courtesy complaints increased as the number of passengers screened increased and that there was a more pronounced effect after June 2012.

Regardless of whether the dates of October 2011 or July 2012 are used as indicator variables (to signify the introduction of Pre-Check or the publication of the GAO report), within this time period, customer service courtesy complaints increased relative to the number of passengers screened because the sign of the indicator variable was positive and significant. Some models that included other kinds of complaints were not found to be statistically significant. Additional analysis could have followed if TSA customer service compliment data were available.

Statistical data on TSA compliments is not available to the public but the availability of this information, including data by airport, might allow many to observe how well TSA is managing their operations. With the availability of this data, negative public reports (such as this one from the Wall Street Journal) could be easily refuted.

Given that all DHS components face a continual onslaught of congressional and public criticism, it is unclear why the Department has not developed a comprehensive policy for releasing customer data. One component where such a policy would be beneficial to efficiency, security and public relations is Customs and Border, which sits on some databases unrelated to national security, none of which are available to the interested public. More on CBP and other components in forthcoming posts.

Gary S. Becker is the Chief Economist for Catalyst Partners, LLC. In this role, Becker offers economic analyses to clients on matters relating to homeland security, including the cost impact of proposed and final rulemakings. He offers advice on how to save money while achieving desired security benefits. Read More