TSA reorg bill pushes business, tech improvements

Transportation Security Administration Reorganization Act of 2005

Republican leaders on the House Homeland Security Committee introduced a bill today that would restructure the Transportation Security Administration to make the agency more business-savvy and encourage its use of new security technologies.

The TSA Reorganization Act of 2005 intends to improve airline security, reduce passengers’ travel frustrations and cut wasteful spending, said bill sponsor Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee’s Economic Security, Infrastructure Protection and Cybersecurity Subcommittee.

Lungren and other GOP members on the committee submitted the bill two days after a blistering report from the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, the nonprofit successor to the federal 9/11 Commission.

The report gave the Homeland Security Department, which includes TSA, a grade of F for improving airline passenger screening programs because of the privacy and performance problems with Secure Flight, TSA’s pre-screening program. Baggage and cargo screening received a D, and explosives detection at passenger screening checkpoints got a C.

“Things are far from perfect. This goes a long way to make things less imperfect,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the full committee, who spoke with Lungren at a press conference.

The bill would set new performance goals for TSA, state and local governments, and the private sector intended to improve airport security. It would also allow agency spending based on assessments of risk and vulnerability, and develop accurate accounting and cost-analysis practices for all agency programs.

The bill offers an incentive to airports that train their own passenger-screening staff. Airports that use private screeners which cost less than federal screeners can keep at least 90 percent of the savings to reinvest in new technologies.

The share-in-savings provision aims to urge state and local governments and federal contractors to compete with TSA to improve airport security. The bill would encourage private-sector investment in new transportation security technology.

Within 90 days of the bill's passage, TSA would have to establish a program that instantly pre-screens international travelers to the United States to weed out terrorists before their planes take off.

Lungren said he thinks TSA can create such a program faster than the agency has said it could. “They think if they didn’t invent the wheel, they can’t use it,” he said.

TSA should replicate similar programs used in Australia and other countries, Lungren said. The agency should look for commercially available products that can scale up to handle the volume of passengers TSA handles, he said.

To speed known safe passengers through security checkpoints, TSA would have to create a Vetted Passenger List of people already cleared by other credentialing programs, such as Registered Traveler, Transportation Worker Identity Credential and federal security clearances.

The bill would create a chief operating officer position to oversee daily agency operations. The COO would report directly to Kip Hawley, assistant secretary of homeland security for TSA, and focus on improving customer service to passengers and ensuring effective screening programs.

The bill would also create two autonomous bodies in the COO's office within TSA to improve customer service and the agency’s business performance. The first would make the agency’s passenger and baggage screening more performance-based and results-oriented.

The second, the Airport Screening Office, would consolidate TSA screening operations. It would operate as a business and focus on customer service, accountability and cost reductions.

Finally, the bill would create industry councils for each transportation mode to advise TSA on management, policy and other matters.

The full committee has scheduled to mark up the bill in early 2006.

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