Transportation Security Administration and law enforcement agencies participate in Operation RAILSAFE at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station on Sept. 3, 2015. (Official DHS photo by Barry Bahler)

#RealDeal Interview: TSA’s CMS Keeps Travelers Moving Safely, Well-Informed

Homeland Security Today Executive Editor Kristina Tanasichuk got to sit down with Kimberly Walton, assistant administrator for the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement at TSA. She is responsible for integrating many of TSA’s policies into the field and ensuring that frontline officials are aware of traveler needs while effectively carrying out screening requirements. Walton joined us to discuss her role and priorities for 2018.

HST: Tell us a little bit about your responsibilities as the Chief of Mission support. What are your priorities?

Walton: The CMS role is designed to drive unity of effort and enterprise approaches to human resources, acquisition and procurement, training, and information technology. The CMS supports and implements the TSA administrator’s vision, strategy, direction and purpose. I oversee the day-to-day operations support activities of TSA’s Offices of Contracting and Procurement, Human Capital, Training and Development, Information Technology, Inspection, Professional Responsibility, and Acquisition Program Management. My top priority while I am in this seat is to mature the CMS function and introduce it to our colleagues in the field. I believe it is absolutely critical that policy makers have direct and frequent contact with the people charged with implementing those policies.

Kimberly Walton

HST: How has the implementation of PreCheck improved customer service and security?

Walton: TSA PreCheck is a component of TSA’s intelligence-driven, risk-based security approach used to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way.  PreCheck streamlines the screening of vetted, trusted travelers. We know that most people are low-risk. Travelers with PreCheck have confirmed that for us ahead of time, allowing us to focus screening on travelers we know less about. The program is about security through efficiency.

You don’t hear a lot of complaints in the media — TSA seems to be doing very well with treating people fairly and respectfully. Is this what you find too? Are there certain areas of the country that have more challenges?

Walton: TSA is engaged in a multi-faceted approach to improve its ability to communicate with both the public and our frontline workforce – communication that involves both conveying and receiving information. TSA is focused on educating the public on our processes in a variety of ways, including one-on-one engagement opportunities between the public and our TSOs, public forums, social media platforms, and the internet.

We are focused on ensuring our TSOs are aware of the diverse needs of travelers, sensitive to cultural differences, and able to effectively carry out screening requirements. To train TSOs in these screening processes, TSA established the TSA Academy in early 2016. TSA new-hire training is now conducted at the TSA Academy in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia – a move that centralizes training for new employees, which previously was held locally at U.S. airports. While at FLETC, TSA student officers train at replica checkpoints involving real-world scenarios such as social engineering tactics, screening individuals with disabilities, and how to effectively implement alarm resolution procedures.

TSA is also committed to affording travelers with multiple mechanisms to provide feedback, and uses that information to improve performance. Reflective of the progress TSA is making in this effort, in fiscal year 2017 the TSA Contact Center (TCC) experienced a 14 percent decrease in the rate of complaints despite a 3 percent increase in passenger throughput.

As to your question that certain areas of the country have more challenges, I am not aware of any information or data that would lead to that conclusion.

HST: How is TSA utilizing social media to spread its mission? Are you able to use social media to help secure the public too?

Walton: TSA has a very strong and robust social media presence that continues to grow. Our Instagram account – which highlights the prohibited items that are intercepted at the checkpoint – has more than 840,000 followers and in 2017 was one of five nominees for two prestigious Webby Awards. Our social media efforts showcase TSA’s screening efforts, canines, packing tips, and initiatives that help to increase traveler awareness. In addition, TSA’s main Twitter account shared 1,200 tweets in 2017, resulting in more than 31 million impressions and over 207,000 followers. Through Twitter, we focus on providing resources that will be most useful to passengers, to include TSA Pre✓® information, TSA policy or procedure updates (via press release links), innovation information, major event information (e.g., Super Bowl), and AskTSA promotion.

In 2017, TSA’s blog generated 73 posts, with more than 3.5 million page views. The blog includes information to help address passenger concerns, a weekly highlight of intercepted firearms and travel tips, and serves as a platform to communicate new policies and initiatives. In November 2017, TSA officially launched a Facebook page and broadcasted its first Ask Me Anything on Facebook Live with more than 5,000 views. The Ask Me Anything series allows viewers to ask questions directly of TSA subject matter experts.

Through AskTSA, our social care team that monitors the @AskTSA Twitter and Facebook messenger accounts to address passenger inquiries, we continued our commitment to customer service by helping passengers in real-time, 365 days a year. To date, TSA has received and responded to more than 450,000 questions from the traveling public via its AskTSA Twitter and Facebook Messenger accounts. This includes responding to more than 110,000 questions on what passengers can bring on a plane, more than 33,000 inquiries on TSA Pre✓® including Known Traveler Number resolution, and more than 12,000 responses to help passengers with disabilities and medical conditions with the security screening process.

TSA’s customer-centric, mobile compliant website, TSA.gov, gets more than 7 million page views each month. The agency app, MyTSA, was completely overhauled last year, adding features such as TSA Pre✓® checkpoint hours, a graph predicting how busy airport checkpoints will be based on historical data, live assistance with AskTSA, and a searchable database of items that can be placed in carry-on and checked baggage. All these efforts aim to make the traveling process transparent and understandable to the public.

As TSA continues to raise the baseline of aviation security, communicating changes to procedures is critical to protect travelers and the transportation systems. For example, last summer TSA implemented new security measures for carry-on baggage that require travelers to place all personal electronics larger than a cell phone in bins for X-ray screening in standard lanes. TSOs serving as Divestiture Officers provide a critical “face to face” element for implementing those procedures by communicating the requirements to travelers at the checkpoint, answering their questions and preparing them for the subsequent screening process. Additionally, TSA utilized traditional media, social media and industry partners to inform the public about the changes to better prepare travelers for the checkpoint security process. We were also able to field questions in real-time through AskTSA, receiving instant feedback from passengers and providing quick resolution to concerns resulting from the changes in security.

HST: What is your favorite part of the job?

Walton: My favorite part of my job is having the opportunity to visit with TSA’s frontline workforce and witnessing firsthand just how dedicated they are to protecting the traveling public. They protect on average 2.4 million travelers per day. These travelers are all unique individuals of various backgrounds and ability, and many are stressed or unfamiliar with the airport screening process. They do this day-in and day-out with a commitment to not only keep travelers safe, but to also treat every traveler with dignity and respect. I am truly grateful to their service to nation’s transportation systems.

HST: What is your favorite movie and why?

Walton: Actually, I don’t actually have a favorite movie, just favorite performances by actors. So, I would say The Shawshank Redemption because I thought Morgan Freeman’s performance was incredible.

Kristina Tanasichuk is CEO of the Government Technology & Services Coalition and Executive Editor of Homeland Security Today. She founded GTSC to advance communication and collaboration between the public and private sector in defense of our homeland.  A leader in homeland security public private partnership, critical infrastructure protection, cyber security, STEM, innovation, commercialization and much more, she brings to HST decades of experience and expertise in the intersection of the public and private sectors in support of our homeland's security. Tanasichuk worked for Chairman Tom Bliley on electric utility restructuring for the House Commerce Committee, then for municipal electric utilities sorting out deregulation. She also worked for the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.; ran the largest homeland conference and trade show in the country; and represented public works departments In homeland security immediately after 9/11. Tanasichuk brings a new vision and in-depth knowledge of the federal homeland and national security apparatus to the media platform.  She is also the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security. She has attended the FBI and DEA Citizens Academies and the Marine Corps Executive Leadership Program and holds her undergraduate degree from St. Olaf College and an MPA from George Mason University.

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