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Monday, April 15, 2024

TSA Investment and Legislation Proposals on the Table as Pekoske Says Transportation is a ‘Top Target’ for Terrorists

“TSA will deliver for the first time an unconstrained Capital Investment Plan that describes an ideal future state in which TSA is able to buy down more risk to the transportation sector with additional resources,” Pekoske said. “It is imperative that TSA continues to invest in, acquire, and field new technologies to strengthen transportation security.”

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator David Pekoske said on Tuesday that the transportation sector will remain a top target for malicious actors including international and domestic terrorists due to the prevalence of soft targets within the sector, the public accessibility of many transportation modes, and the importance of transportation infrastructure to the nation.

Pekoske was discussing the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request for TSA on March 28 during testimony before the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

Steve Karoly, former Acting Assistant Administrator for the TSA Office of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis and Executive Vice President at K2 Security Screening Group, told Homeland Security Today that to maintain national security for travelers, a balanced approach to funding is vital. “Continued improvements in TSA’s security effectiveness and security efficiency requires a disciplined and conscious effort to maintain the balance of aviation security’s three-legged stool: technology, people, and doctrine/procedures. An equal investment in each leg is required for the stool to remain balanced.”

As approved in the FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Act and signed by the President in December 2022, this budget proposal includes necessary funding for the agency to continue to implement an employee compensation package that is commensurate with other federal agencies and provisions to accommodate increasing passenger travel volumes and maintain wait times standards. This funding provides needed resources to pay TSA employees commensurate with its federal counterparts.

Karoly noted that fourteen percent of the 2024 budget proposal is directed to improving salary parity for the Transportation Security Officer workforce, which he believes should address the TSA’s workforce retention challenges and improve screening operations. “That investment bolsters the ‘people’ leg of that stool.” 

To support the ‘technology’ leg of the stool, TSA is also investing in technology improvements at airports across the country including an additional $70 million to expand Computed Tomography (CT) deployments to airport checkpoints nationwide and Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) at checkpoints. 

“And finally, the TSA is funding efforts to help TSA stakeholders improve incident response in the various transportation sectors,” Karoly concluded. “This investment bolsters the third and final leg of that stool, the ‘doctrine/procedures’ leg.”     

In his testimony, Pekoske said that a “dedicated and well-trained workforce and the sound deployment of next generation technology are essential to enhanced security, checkpoint efficiency and an improved passenger experience”. 

“I am very grateful for the funding we received in the FY23 Omnibus Appropriations Act that places TSA employees on an equal pay footing with every other employee in the federal government,” Pekoske said. “This action is critical to our long-term success, and without this necessary funding, there will be significant wait time increases for travelers.”  

Out of a total $10.4 billion in funding for TSA, the President’s FY24 Budget specifically includes:

  • A legislative proposal to terminate TSA’s $1.6 billion deficit reduction diversion from the Aviation Passenger Security Fee and return the funds to support critical aviation security requirements.
  • $1.4 billion to fully support the TSA employee pay initiatives started in FY23.
  • $3.7 million to support Executive Order 14058 to enhance Customer Experience Strategic Initiatives.
  • $151 million for the development and implementation of enhanced cybersecurity-related measures to improve cyber resiliency across the U.S. transportation systems sector. TSA coordinates across government and industry to identify, share and mitigate threats among those it regulates.
  • A legislative proposal to transition access control at exit lanes to airport authorities and commercial airports, placing nearly 1,300 full time employees back into screening functions and returning $111 million in resources back to risk-based security measures.

Homeland Security Today asked Keith Jeffries, Former Federal Security Director at Los Angeles International Airport and now Vice President of K2 Security Screening Group, for his thoughts on the budget’s funding for TSA.

“As the threat to transportation security evolves, hiring and retaining high quality employees along with procuring next generation technology is a must, to continue to protect our Homeland,” Jeffries said. “TSA employees deserve this type of support as they continue to serve the traveling public every day.”

On the legislative proposal to terminate TSA’s deficit reduction diversion from the Aviation Passenger Security Fee and return the funds to support critical aviation security requirements, Keith said: “In my humble opinion, these funds should have never been diverted to deficit reduction in the first place. It’s great to see this is being considered.” 

Congress’s diversion of these security fees per passenger to offset receipts for the federal budget have garnered much criticism from within the industry. In February 2020, the industry trade organization Airlines for America revealed that since 2014, approximately $1.3 billion per year in these fees has been diverted away from its intended purpose. Pekoske said on Tuesday that if enacted, the legislation would provide an additional $1.6 billion to directly offset TSA’s appropriated funding and return the funds to use for their intended purpose.

While the industry will be encouraged by this potential end to fee diversion, they may not welcome the proposal to transition access control at exit lanes as warmly. “Airports may have concerns with this proposal,” Keith said. “This has been an ongoing challenge for TSA for many years.  It will be interesting to see if it passes.”        

On this point, Pekoske said the transition would result in projected savings of $111.0 million. He added that if approved, TSA will work with airports to integrate exit lane security into their perimeter security plans and assess those plans regularly. 

During his testimony, Pekoske said he will publish the third iteration of the Administrator’s Intent, which will focus on the 20 most critical crosscutting issues that require collaboration across the entire agency with senior executive accountability. 

In addition, “TSA will deliver for the first time an unconstrained Capital Investment Plan that describes an ideal future state in which TSA is able to buy down more risk to the transportation sector with additional resources,” Pekoske said. “It is imperative that TSA continues to invest in, acquire, and field new technologies to strengthen transportation security.”

“As of today, TSA needs a total of 3,585 CAT and 2,263 CT machines to reach Full Operational Capability (FOC),” Pekoske continued. “Currently, Checkpoint Property Screening System (CPSS) procurements are an estimated 35 percent of FOC, which puts deployments at approximately 28 percent for CPSS and 57 percent for CAT. Based on past, present, and current projected funding, TSA will meet FOC for CAT machines and CPSS in FY 2049 and FY 2042, respectively. Full and dedicated funding for CPSS and CAT are imperative for our nation’s security at the checkpoint.”

Among other new technologies, TSA is investing in digital identities and expanding the number of locations that allow travelers to verify their identity by using digital versions of state ID on their smartphones. Pekoske also mentioned an identity verification project with tech giants.

“With respect to identity verification, we’ve worked with Apple, Google and Samsung so state DMVs have the ability, if they choose to, to allow one of their license holders to download their driver’s license into the wallet of their smartphones. It’s a lot, lot more secure and convenient. People will leave some things at home but they will not leave their smartphone.”

Furthermore, Pekoske underlined a number of investments that require sustained funding to ensure the transportation sector stays secure. Some of these investments include: 

  • $251.0 million to provide the TSA workforce a 5.2 percent pay raise.  
  • $39.0 million for Transportation Security Equipment Maintenance to fund anticipated maintenance costs of TSA’s checkpoint and checked baggage screening technologies based on current contractual requirements.  
  • $19.0 million and 24 Positions for the implementation and expansion of the REAL ID Program.  
  • $11.3 million for maintenance, technical support, and engineering contracts for Credential Authentication Technology.  
  • $10.0 million to properly support the National Deployment Office Travel increases.  
  • $4.5 million and 45 Positions to establish a dedicated pipeline security assessment team to conduct inspections and assessments on the Surface Transportation System.  
  • $3.8 million to enhance TSA’s Insider Threat Program. 
  • $2.7 million and 6 Positions to support Executive Order 14058 to enhance Customer Experience Strategic initiatives.

Read Administrator Pekoske’s testimony at TSA

author avatar
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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