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Aviation System Security

US Trusted Traveler program doomed unless flaws are addressed

Jul 15, 2011

RADNOR, Pennsylvania - Business Travel Coalition (BTC) today applauded Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John Pistole for taking the next steps in relaunching a Trusted Traveler (TT) program. BTC supports positive-profiling of airline passengers. Because of controversies surrounding more aggressive airport security pat-down procedures and full-body imaging machines, recent checkpoint events have shone a bright light on the ineffectiveness and high cost of current aviation system security policy.

Few airline and security industry experts would quarrel with the observation that treating all passengers as equal threats to the aviation system is ineffective and wasteful. ‚ÄúThere Must Be A Better Way‚ÄĚ has become the new mantra; the TT program has once again been identified as a preferred strategy.

There was congressional and traveler support for TT after September 11, 2001, and BTC studies since have validated continued support. Moreover, organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents, Global Business Travel Association, Reason Foundation, and US Travel have strongly advocated such a positive-profiling program.

The US Congress in 2001 authorized a TT program to be administered by TSA and financed and implemented by private-sector firms. TSA piloted the program at 5 airports until the end of fiscal year 2005 at which time the private sector became responsible for much of program. The first iteration of the program failed on virtually every level - including an ultimate lack of support from TSA - and abruptly ended in 2009. The program has recently been revived at a handful of airports. However, the initiative will once again be doomed to failure unless economic and operational structural modifications are made.


Member Background Checks
TSA needs to assume from TT vendors the responsibility for managing members’ background checks. Instead of crosschecking members’ names against the national terrorism watch list, more robust criminal history background checks need to be conducted on members and recertified at regular intervals.

TT Vendor Technology Ownership
It was flawed thinking from the beginning that program vendors would compete for customers and differentiate themselves by implementing innovative screening technologies in security lanes, as was made abundantly clear with the plagued and infamous General Electric shoe scanner. TSA controls an approval process that effectively blocks the kind of innovation-based competition envisioned by early program proponents. Moreover, such a process sets the stage for congressional oversight wherein in response to queries regarding lack of progress with advanced screening technologies, TSA points fingers at program vendors and vice versa.

A more effective and cost-efficient structure would be for TSA to own the complete screening technology sourcing budget and process such that (1) transparent accountability would be ensured; (2) a consistent security product would be deployed across the aviation system; and (3) a more strategic view would enable visibility to how new screening technologies could be implemented for the benefit of all airline passengers and leveraged into required uses in other transportation modes.

A TSA-owned screening technology approach would allow TT vendors to fully concentrate on the complex consumer-marketing task of developing a national TT program with millions of members integrated with other federal programs such as Global Entry or ‚ÄúInternational TT.‚ÄĚ

Member Enrollment Model
A central reason the program in its first iteration only grew to a couple of hundred thousand members, instead of a few million members with sustainable economics, was an incredibly inefficient and high-cost biometric enrollment process that served as a chokepoint for the program and forced it into a tailspin before a national critical mass could be achieved.

Essentially, prospective members had to plan in advance to enroll at participating airports, or program vendors had to ship and provide staff for enrollment kiosks on large corporate campuses. In contrast, what is needed is a strategic partnership with an organization owning a nationwide network of thousands ‚Äústorefronts‚ÄĚ (e.g., FedEx Kinkos) where enrollment kiosks and staff could be efficiently deployed and where prospective TT members could conveniently schedule enrollment appointments.

Never has there been so much support for risk-based transportation security policy. A TT program would enhance national security and improve our economic output through increased business travel and commercial transactions and free scarce economic resources for pursuing terrorists where they sleep.

US Trusted Traveler program doomed unless flaws are addressed
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