The TSA had been on the upswing until a lack of leadership brought it back down. Let's hope the new guy thinks big and acts bigger.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has officially installed Vice Admiral Peter Neffenger as its chief, following a half-year of missteps and middling leadership.
With new brass in place, the agency can now work on righting its ship after a streak of bad press and damning security reports. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reflected during his confirmation hearing, Vice Admiral Neffenger has a “tough job” ahead of him.
The agency’s most glaring problems are related to a recent report finding that 95% of undercover “prohibited items” planted in screened luggage were not successfully detected. On top of that agency employees have faced increased scrutiny on their approach towards monitoring and sharing passengers’ data on social media.
Few will argue with the opinion that the TSA and its methodologies are broken. Until there’s a better alternative in place though, there are a few succinct things that the agency can do to clean up shop and repair its relationship with the traveling public.
1. Ratchet up the quality of screening. Nobody likes egregious pat downs at the airport, but even fewer people like the idea of 95% of prohibited items passing through security. As Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson recommended at the last TSA management overhaul, the agency needs better training, better standards and fresher, more engaged agents
2. More efficient Pre-Check and Managed Inclusion. Earlier this year, the TSA claimed that it was scaling back its Managed Inclusion program wherein random, “low-risk” passengers are funneled into expedited screening. The result should have been faster Precheck lines with more experienced passengers. So far though, we haven’t seen that effect on the ground: expedited lanes are still full of random, confused passengers and nobody leaves the checkpoint happy.
3. Better engagement with social media: At this time last year, the TSA had a press secretary named Ross Feinstein who effectively handled the top tier of influential travelers on social media. Since his departure, social communication from the agency has been tepid at best. Stronger communication across these media — especially as younger travelers start traveling on their own — will soon be an imperative.
4. A stronger investment in employees: Frontline security employees need not make a fortune, but they should make more than a waiter or a barista. With a median salary of $38k though, that may not always be the case. Better salaries will attract better talent and happier employees. In turn, that means happier passengers.
5. A return to liquids: Former TSA Chief John Pistole alluded several times to a relaxation of the 100mL liquids rule, even suggesting that the next chief should address the ban. Mr. Neffenger: it’s time.
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Photo credit: Transportation Security Administration employees check bags at an operation area at Midway International Airport in Chicago. Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press