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Transportation Security Administration Reforms for the Future

Transportation Security Administration Reforms for the Future Homeland Security TodayWhile created in the wake of 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has since evolved to focus on additional terrorist security threats. Yet, since its inception, the agency has needed to address numerous vulnerabilities and organizational trials. In light of this, a recent hearing was held by the House Committee on Homeland Security to determine necessary reforms and improvements needed to overcome past challenges and address the growing concerns of the future.

During the hearing, John Katko (R-NY) addressed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General John Roth directly, pointing out that his office “has conducted over one hundred audits identifying major security vulnerabilities and organizational challenges throughout TSA, including the most recent reports that found TSA’s passenger screening was allegedly wrong 96 percent of the time, and that 73 aviation workers had potential ties to terrorism.”

Katko further stated how disconcerting such information is, and how it’s breaking down public opinion of the agency and its efforts.

Between the findings of the Inspector General’s Office and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Katko shared that, regrettably, such findings were not secluded.

Rather, Katko noted “… many of these vulnerabilities have been identified and known for years, and, unfortunately, prior to this year, the previous leadership within both TSA and DHS did not take steps to address these known security vulnerabilities.”

Some of the specific challenges TSA has faced were highlighted by Roth.

“I testified that these challenges were in almost every areas of TSA’s operations: its problematic implementation of risk assessment rules, including its management of TSA Precheck; failures in passenger and baggage screening operations, discovered in part through our covert testing program; TSA’s controls over access to secure areas, including management of its access badge program; its management of workforce integrity program; TSA’s oversight over its acquisition and maintenance of screening equipment; and other issues we have discovered in the course of over 115 audit and inspection reports,” Roth told the committee.

He further noted that one of the greatest challenges new TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger may face is creating “a culture of change within TSA” while “giving the TSA workforce the ability to identify and address risks without fear of retribution.”

A step in this direction has included swift and definitive responses.  For instance, in response to a recent audit report, TSA leadership was called together to create an immediate plan of action as a means of problem-solving the issues that were discovered.

New leadership, with a heavily bi-partisan influence, worked to make sure the plan was cohesive and had a means to be effective.

“Securing our nation’s transporation systems is of vital importance to both our national security, and our economic strength and stability,” Katko said.

Roth also emphasized the necessity of taking threats seriously and being vigilant and aware.

“Securing the civil aviation transportation system remains a formidable task – TSA is responsible for screening travelers and baggage for 1.8 million passengers a day at 450 of our nation’s airports,” Roth said.

One way of doing this is making sure the plans in place correspond to present threats and can perhaps be utilized for future challenges as well. To do this, much attention has been placed on checkpoint operations.

Intelligence plays an invaluable role in the process, but it’s not enough. The checkpoint process needs to be utilized along with proper emphasis on risk assessment guidelines. Though TSA has lacked in this area in the past, enhancing these efforts will improve overall security effectiveness.

Acting as a regulator to regulate airport security and its authorities is another way TSA can monitor, protect and secure those within the transportation system.

“Without a sustained commitment to addressing known vulnerabilities, the agency risks compromising the safety of the nation’s transportation systems,” Roth cautioned.

Neffenger echoed similar sentiments regarding the overall TSA mission and how efforts can be made to correct past inefficiencies.

“My highest priority for TSA is determining root causes and implementing solutions to address the recent cover test of TSA’s checkpoint operations and technology conducted by the DHS Office of Inspector General,” Neffenger noted.

To enhance any proposed changes, it must be understand the necessity of being effective, closing gaps and enhancing covert assessments. These can be accomplished by concentrating on the action plan, first addressed at the hearing by Roth.

The plan was designed to:

  • Ensure leadership accountability;
  • Improve alarm resolution;
  • Increase effectiveness and deterrence;
  • Increase threat testing to sharpen officer performance;
  • Strengthen standard operating procedures;
  • Improve the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) system;
  • Deploy additional resolution tools; and
  • Improve human factors, including enhanced training and operational responses.

In addition to this action plan, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson instituted an additional set of actions in the form of a 10-point plan to work in conjunction with TSA.

This plan includes briefing Federal Security Directors at airports nationwide to guarantee awareness and accountability, increasing manual screening, evaluating current non-vetted populations for expedited screening and creatinga team of TSA and DHS monitoring officials to check on implementation and progress.

The new administrator is keen on transforming TSA and making sure it will adequately and effectively serve its current and future purposes.

“Solutions to the challenges facing TSA will require a renewed focus on the agency’s security mission, a commitment to right-sizing and resourcing TSA to effectively secure the aviation enterprise and an industry commitment to incentivizing vetting of passengers as well as creating conditions that can decrease the volume and contents of bangs presented for screening in airports,” Neffenger said.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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