TSA mcaleenan miami airport Acting Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan visits members of the Transportation Security Administration at Miami International Airport on June 6, 2019. (DHS photo by Tara Molle)

Pekoske ‘Intends to Come Home’ as TSA Faces Challenge of Broader Tactics and Targets, Says Cogswell

TSA Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell said today that David Pekoske, who was moved from the Transportation Security Administration to fill the acting deputy DHS secretary role in April, is eager to come home to the agency.

“He has a 5-year term; he intends to come home and finish it,” Cogswell said at TSA Industry Day in Washington. “…He believes so much in this home and so much in this mission and wants to be part of it.”

Pekoske was confirmed to the TSA post in August 2017. Cogswell said that in his absence TSA is “able to fully execute” but “know that he is part and parcel of everything.”

She said Kevin McAleenan, who was moved from Customs and Border Protection to be acting Homeland Security secretary, and Pekoske serving as his No. 2 at DHS ensures TSA that experienced leaders are guiding the mission.

“There’s no learning curve; they just hit the ground running,” Cogswell added.

DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa, speaking alongside Cogswell, agreed that the leaders in acting roles had not hobbled the agency. “They come from operational components and understand what our needs are,” she said.

Cogswell said a particular challenge for TSA is how terrorists have “broadened” their own mission since 9/11: While their interest in a large-scale aviation attack has not waned, “they now look at how many ways information can be transmitted” to inspire, recruit, train, or direct would-be attackers on extremists’ home turf and “any incident matters” no matter the size as terror groups tally attacks.

That means security professionals have to not only look at how to continue to protect more sophisticated targets but expand focus to protecting softer targets such as the pre-screening areas at airports and bus stations. “We must look at them all,” she said.

With a “dramatic increase” in the number of air passengers, plus growth in air cargo as well as passenger and freight rail, Cogswell sees “really amazing opportunities for us to partner up with industry.”

“How do we look at all of the entities out there who might have a critical role to play?” she said, stressing the need to “harness energy and enthusiasm out there for new ideas, new ways of thinking.”

“Look at what’s out there to get an idea of art of the possible… We have some problems that we don’t really have great solutions or the solutions we want for the future.”

Correa said that “as threats continue to grow we have to be thinking beyond” — and be ready with the next solution before bad actors work around the current systems.

“How do we buy more efficiently? How do we buy more effectively? How do we share across the department?” Correa asked, stressing that “we really want to keep that market open” with small and nontraditional businesses.

Staying one step ahead of threats, though, means that a five-year contract may not be a value for the department if innovation develops as it should.

“At the pace things are moving, sometimes you want to be able to write those smaller contracts,” Correa noted.

Cogswell said a TSA priority is “accelerated action,” defined as the speed from the point of identifying a new threat to developing a solution to that problem.

“Every day security is Job One — it has been since the creation of the agency,” she said. “…I don’t ever feel like we have a shortage of ideas.” Cogswell does want to be “making sure that we create clear pathways for that to be executed, all those great ideas.”

She advised industry partners to not neglect the “big market” of cargo and surface transportation security needs and to focus on interoperable products — “think system of systems, what that actually means on the ground.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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