TSA's Registered Traveler needs help

Feds ask industry for advice to speed passengers through airport security

The Transportation Security Administration has asked the private sector for advice on how to get its Registered Traveler voluntary credentialing program off the ground this summer.

Scheduled to start screening passengers nationally June 20, Registered Traveler is intended to speed airport security checks for travelers. The program also aims to reduce the number of passengers that screeners must check by designating qualified participants as low risk.

TSA has set aggressive targets, said Larry Zmuda, a partner at Unisys responsible for its Registered Traveler operations. "A lot of people want this program rolled out quickly and efficiently," he said.

The private sector is waiting to see whether Registered Traveler will kick off a new voluntary credentialing industry in which passengers pay for expedited screening and additional benefits, said Steven Brill, chief executive officer of Verified Identity Pass, the vendor running a Registered Traveler pilot program in Orlando, Fla.

TSA also wants advice on a fee model. User fees fund the entire program, which has not taken federal money since fiscal 2005.

The activities this month set the stage for the next round of program deadlines beginning April 20. By then, TSA will have evaluated possible third-party organizations and vendors that would certify service providers and oversee compliance.

The last day vendors can submit interoperability plans is April 20. Also on that day, TSA plans to set requirements for verifying passengers at airport checkpoints.

TSA will take a strong role in establishing security standards for vendors participating in Registered Traveler, Zmuda said. The reason is simple: "If there's a breach in airport security, TSA will be blamed, not service providers," Zmuda said.

TSA has also requested feedback on all pilot programs, including the public/ private partnership system still in use in Orlando and a TSA-operated version that ran at five airports from August 2004 to Sept. 30, 2005.

Many vendors interested in Registered Traveler agree that interoperability is the tallest hurdle to a successful program. TSA must ensure interoperability on three fronts, Zmuda said. The first is technology — ensuring that the Registered Traveler identification cards and readers work regardless of the vendor that provides them. Real-time access to accurate data is another necessity for effective interoperability, said Louis Hutchinson III, vice president of public sector sales at Initiate Systems, which specializes in software that allows different databases to interoperate.

The second front is business processes — ensuring that Registered Traveler partners can share and protect data, Zmuda said. The third is financial — ensuring that the system pays all vendor participants. The last is a challenge because money only enters the system through enrollment fees but must also reach the verification providers that make the system work, he said.

Shopping list for US-VISIT

Like their counterparts working on the Registered Traveler program, officials in charge of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) program are cultivating products and standards for future development.

US-VISIT, which was created to identify potential terrorists, uses biometric and biographical information to verify visitors' identities at visa-issuing ports of entry into the United States.

Standards are important for technological quality and interoperability, said Jim Williams, US-VISIT director. Program officials are developing standards for service-oriented architecture, middleware and other technologies they expect to use in the next few years.

They want smaller, faster and better flat-print fingerprint scanners, said Scott Hastings, US-VISIT's chief information officer. The program also recently issued a request for quotations for better electronic passport readers, Williams said.

US-VISIT especially needs radio frequency identification technology that will not slow traffic at land borders, Williams said. The goal is to use the technology to transmit biometric data every time a visitor enters or exits the country, he said.

— Michael Arnone

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