THE MAGAZINE

Federal Perspective - TSA

By Joseph Straw
 
 
Q. What are some of the outlying risks or other security challenges TSA faces?
 
A. Within TSA we are constantly looking at the intelligence to assess what the threat is, and continuing to be very agile and changing our posture to combat it. I think you saw that right after the liquids plot in 2006. TSA was very able to immediately change its policies regarding liquids, as an example, not just here in the United States but working with our partners across the world to implement procedures that mitigated that specific threat. One of the things that we are constantly working on is understanding what are the threats to aviation and changing our policy as necessary to mitigate that specific threat.
 
I think it’s also important to note that we expect that our adversary is going to study us and attempt to use our process against us. So we want to make our process easy for a passenger to go through, but very difficult for our adversary to predict what their experience is going to be. So one of the tenets of our security posture is the idea or unpredictability, which is very different from randomness. “Random” implies that you come to the airport and the might conduct any one of several different procedures. “Unpredictable” means that we know what process we should be carrying out, but that the person watching it does not know what to expect when they go through that process. So we’ve embedded that throughout our security layers, and it’s one of the major tenets of the way we handle the insider threat, If a person is studying our process and attempting to use that process against us, then the more unpredictable we are in the way that we handle that security screening process, the more difficult it will be for them to get through the entire 20 layers.
 
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges posed by legal or administrative mandates?
 
A. I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge but what I will say is that we have a variety of different laws and enacting legislation and other types of requirements that are placed on us, and so it’s a very large operation with 450 airports as well as other modes of transportation. We are working very hard at implementing a variety of different security strategies in multiple modes of transportation, and it’s all about good relationships with all of your stakeholders, so that you can work collaboratively and cooperatively to come up with a common goal of good security in all modes of transportation.
 
Q. What could TSA do better?
 
A. We have an outstanding workforce. And that’s one of the things that I really learned as the FSD down in Orlando, is that the TSA attracts outstanding people. So what we’re really trying to do is continue to work with our front-line workforce and provide a place where they want to come and work for a very long period of time and have a career at TSA, and be able to progress through the ranks and go from being a brand new TSO to being a FSD or even to my job at some point. So I think it’s really important to focus on the officer. We can have all kinds of great technology—which is great for us to have out there—but having the officer out there to understand the behaviors that are coming through as well as to operate the sometimes complex equipment, I think is critical for us.
 
The other thing that we’re really focused on right now is working with the traveling public so that they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, which is kind of what we talked about before with the Ad Council and some other things we’re doing out there with signage and communication in the checkpoint, and training our officers in how to communicate with passengers as they’re coming through, to reduce that stress as their going through so that they’re really part of the security solution with us, and that it’s not an adversarial relationship between the traveling public and the TSA.
 
Q. How does seek to TSA maintain the morale of the TSO workforce?
 
A. A lot of things affect morale, and I’ll tell you just a few of the major ones. One of them is ensuring that the officers can come to TSA and have a very rewarding position that they can have over the long term. Most of the people that I’ve talked to that work as an officer on the line, they come to TSA because of a sense of mission, they view their job rightfully as a public service. And so you have to keep them motivated and recognizing that their job has purpose and that they can stay here for the long term and have career progression.
 
The other thing that I think is important is giving them great training, and this is one of the most trained and most tested workforces in the federal government. And to the extent that we give them training that makes this a fulfilling job for them I think that really impacts their morale. And also having the infrastructure in place to be able to handle employee issues. I think we’ve done a lot of work in that area so that we can resolve conflict, you know even with the passengers out there and working and training or workforce on how to have that engagement with the passengers and to reduce stress I think really does affect their morale, because quite frankly I think if you have an officer out there who is every day dealing with the traveling public, the more that we can work with the traveling public to reduce their stress, it really does affect the morale of our officers as well.
 
Q. Beyond the inherently public-private nature of its mission, is the TSA engaged in any major collaborations with the private sector?
 
A. We interact with the private sector in lots of different ways, the first way is really as you’re probably aware, the way we handle our contracts and grants and other transaction authority agreements. We spend over $3 billion a year with the private sector just through the procurement and acquisition process. On the security operations side, the FSD at each of the sites one of his primary roles is really that interaction or partnership with the private sector in the region. As an FSD you’re reaching out to the airport authority, the airlines, the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, all of the different types of entities out there, quasi-public or even private sector in that local region. And that’s just kind of one of the core functions of an FSD.
 
Another way that we interact with the private sector is through our VIPR teams. We’ve done literally thousands of VIPR missions where we work with private sector transportation venues and we assist them by augmenting them in a very public and visible way to deter someone who might be in that venue, and also to deter any type of surveillance, and to increase that type of unpredictability that I talked about earlier. That’s been a very effective program, and it really focuses on a common security goal with those partners out there.
 
A couple of the other ways that we’re working with other people outside of TSA is working with DHS partners, particularly around emergency response. We have a lot of focus on that now, and in fact during the hurricanes that hit Texas, TSA deployed over 1,000 officers in support of Gustav and Ike to support FEMA as well as the local emergency responders in their points of distribution as well as in helping them to recover out there and we thought that was very successful. And we are also working to better integrate at the state level with state entities, particularly in like the state emergency operation centers or with the homeland security advisors for the governors, we want to make sure that the TSA is as engaged and partners with them as much as possible so that in the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist event, we have trained together and that we already have those relationships built so that they’re ready if needed.
 
Q. What should members of the private sector know about TSA that they might not?
 

A. Just that we look forward to working with them. One of the things that I’ve learned from working with TSA over the past several years is that it’s an extremely collaborative organization and we work very closely with the private sector and with other state and local governments to meet our goals, that our regulated parties meaning the air carriers or rail lines or whatever are typically private entities, and while we may have a regulatory responsibility over them, we also have to work collaboratively with them to come up with that kind of common security posture between the two of us.

 

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