The Transportation Security Administration Reorganization Act of 2005

For many of the reasons set forth in the proposed law’s mission statement, and other reasons not stated, the bill concludes that neither “the needs of the traveling public” nor those of security have been met.

Most independent observers I am sure agree with Congressman Lungren after seeing the repeated reports of failure by the TSA to accomplish its goal of securing our airports and airliners from the known threats of terrorism. After more than four years on the job, explosives still cannot be readily identified by existing technology and security continues to be regularly breached on TSA’s watch, with no hope for improvement in sight. TSA attributes its problems to inadequate budgets, i airports feel left out of the loop in security planning, airlines complain of overbearing security requirements and the public is still probed, prodded, and threatened with no-fly and terrorist watch lists while commercial aviation security remains at the same level of four years ago. But for the new hardened flight deck doors some would say, we could experience another 911 tomorrow.

It is hard to find fault with the mission proposed for the Airport Screening Organization set forth in Congressman Lundgren’s legislation; we do need to take the screening process out of the overall TSA program so that it can be properly examined, tuned and observed. Setting goals for its Chief Operating Officer and providing for a bonus for good performance in achieving measurable goals all deliver a very business like message. The responsibilities of the proposed COO position clearly express the intent to have an operations oriented leader insulated from the distractions created by also enforcing regulatory policies that have hampered the ability of previous TSA heads to provide strong operational leadership. It seems in short that the plan calls for TSA to have a manager for its screening duties free to focus on the many issues that have some how prevented it from achieving the success that all hoped for when it was created.

As is always the case, the devil, if he is present, will be found in the details for even ATSA at first looked to be free of the many flaws that have crippled its effectiveness. TSA has been criticized from the outset for its inability to work well with its government peers and support agencies, the aviation industry stake holders whose needs have frequently not been acknowledged and the traveling public who has often been confused with the enemy when it comes to instituting screening protocols designed protect against terrorism. Even the congress that created it has regularly treated it as its Frankenstein and tried to disassociate itself with its creation with the effect that TSA has been allowed freedom to roam in areas where it hasn’t the skill to be helpful. Will the parent Department of Homeland Security be better able to support and guide the new organization toward accomplishing the twin tasks of serving the needs of the public for a safe, convenient and efficient aviation industry and one that provides reasonable security against foreseeable crime risks especially terrorism?

The COO job as outlined in the proposed legislation calls for proven management skills and a self-starter who will be comfortable enough to stay focused on the need to integrate an unyielding national security program with the demanding needs of a transportation industry which is the backbone of America’s, if not the worlds, economy. While the legislation sets forth many demands for the incumbent, it offers no guidance on what might be demanded of the incumbent by way of qualifications. The characteristics of a good leader who sets policy are not necessarily consonant with one who can effectively operate a highly complex operation upon which the world depends. What background and experience will be needed to perform the tasks set forth for the manager of this organization? Who will assess those skills for this position? What roles if any will the aviation industry, the security industry, the public and the government have in identifying the manager for this new entity that will need to draw support from a broad constituency/ Will the candidate be considered for his or her judgment over personal allegiances and alliances?

In considering the proposed legislation more light needs to be shined on some of the intent behind the propose changes in the security screening opt-out program which currently allows for a potential role to be played in screening security by private sector security organizations under federal government, to be read as TSA, supervision. It is a good omen that the bill contemplates the issuance of Certificates of Conformance for screening entities that meet necessary TSA standards. Not only will this serve to ensure that regardless of the organization delivering screening services those services will be uniform across the aviation system, be of an acceptable standard, and will be protected from liability together with the airports in which they and their vendors work similar to the protections offered under the Safety Act for suppliers of anti-terrorism products. It has been the fear of tort liability that has kept needed innovation from the nation’s screening programs.

The proposed legislation is off to a good start by addressing many of the criticisms of the current TSA screening and related programs. Undoubtedly many of the conflicting interests now at work in hamstringing the efforts to bring promised world-class security to the nations commercial aviation industry both within its screening operations and beyond will be tamed by the recognition that without much needed change now we face a very stormy future.

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