Wow – there’s a headline full of red flags. “Congress” – we’re off to a bad start. “Unanimously” – anything Congress does unanimously has to be something so facile and trivial as to be impossible of ruffling any feathers on either side of the aisle or among any of the myriads of lobby groups that, some people say, control what Congress does. “Solve”? When was the last time the government solved anything? And, last but not least – “TSA” – perhaps the reddest flag of all.
But, let’s cast our cynical thoughts aside. As we know, the waits to go through TSA security screening have grown obscenely long over the last few months. We also know most of the reasons for this :
(a) The TSA seems to be engaged in a deliberate ‘go slow’ to punish anyone and everyone for complaining that up to and over 90% of all weapons are getting past their screening
(b) Congress has imposed a limit on the number of screeners the TSA can employ, and that limit hasn’t adjusted up to match the increases in passengers going through airport screening
(c) Congress is stealing money from the TSA (and from us) – $13 billion of the fees we pay to cover the cost of high quality efficient screening have been siphoned off by Congress and repurposed to generic ‘debt reduction’ – an Orwellian term which ignores the fact our national debt continues to skyrocket
(d) The TSA uses ridiculously inefficient crowd and queue management practices that Delta has demonstrated could be changed – at no cost/compromise to the security screening itself – and allow twice as many people to be screened with the same number of TSA staff
(e) Too few people are joining the PreCheck program because it is too difficult to sign up for, thereby forcing more people into the more labor intensive regular screening lines
So, with public outrage mounting across the board, in wades Congress with its “Checkpoint Optimization and Efficiency Act of 2016” to solve the problems we have been suffering. How many of the five points does it address, and how certain are the solutions it is enacting?
Let’s look at the Act, section by section, as an interesting example of how the government is actively here to help us.
|Text of the Act
H. R. 5338
To reduce passenger wait times at airports, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
|So far so good, although one wonders exactly what the ‘other purposes’ may prove to be.
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “Checkpoint Optimization and Efficiency Act of 2016”.
|No complaints with this either. We’re off to a good start, right?
SEC. 2. SENSE OF CONGRESS.
It is the sense of Congress that airport checkpoint wait times should not take priority over the security of the Nation’s aviation system.
|Whoa! That’s giving the TSA a great big ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card, before the Act even gets started.
It allows them to trot out the excuse ‘you can’t rush good security’ which ignores the fact that you can manage queues, resources, and personnel much better.
Why is this statement here? Almost certainly as a compromise and to water down the Act so as to make it impossible for any ‘security advocate’ to quibble or complain.
So we’ve now neutered the Act entirely.
SEC. 3. ENHANCED STAFFING ALLOCATION MODEL.
(a) In General.—Not later than 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration shall complete an assessment of the Administration’s staffing allocation model to determine the necessary staffing positions at all airports in the United States at which the Administration operates passenger checkpoints.
(b) Appropriate Staffing.—The staffing allocation model described in subsection (a) shall be based on necessary staffing levels to maintain minimal passenger wait times and maximum security effectiveness.
(c) Additional Resources.—In assessing necessary staffing for minimal passenger wait times and maximum security effectiveness referred to in subsection (b), the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration shall include the use of canine explosives detection teams and technology to assist screeners conducting security checks.
(d) Transparency.—The Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration shall share with aviation security stakeholders the staffing allocation model described in subsection (a), as appropriate.
(e) Exchange Of Information.—The Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration shall require each Federal Security Director to engage on a regular basis with the appropriate aviation security stakeholders to exchange information regarding airport operations, including security operations.
(f) GAO Review.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall review the staffing allocation model described in subsection (a) and report to the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate on the results of such review.
|Are your eyes starting to glaze over (and is that what is hoped for?)! What do these six points actually mean?
The short answer is nothing.
What is missing is a rise on the Congressional staffing cap to allow the TSA to hire more staff, or an insistence that the TSA use their staff productively and use best practices to get people through security.
This section allows the TSA to continue doing its own thing, in its own way, without change.
In subsection (b) it refers to minimal passenger wait times and maximum security effectiveness. But what do these empty phrases mean? How about ‘the sense of Congress’ telling us how long the maximum passenger wait time must be?
SEC. 4. EFFECTIVE UTILIZATION OF STAFFING RESOURCES.
(a) In General.—To the greatest extent practicable, the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration shall direct that Transportation Security Officers with appropriate certifications and training are assigned to passenger and baggage security screening functions and that other Administration personnel who may not have certification and training to screen passengers or baggage are utilized for tasks not directly related to security screening, including restocking bins and providing instructions and support to passengers in security lines.
(b) Assessment And Reassignment.—The Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration shall conduct an assessment of headquarters personnel and reassign appropriate personnel to assist with airport security screening activities on a permanent or temporary basis, as appropriate.
|This sounds good, but it starts off with an immediate ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ statement, too. “To the greatest extent practicable”, which means the TSA can do whatever it likes and claim that it is the greatest extent practicable.
This section seems to require the TSA to have lower paid less qualified staff doing less demanding tasks – that is good, but where is the requirement that the TSA change its workflows overall to double the productivity, as has been demonstrated by Delta in Atlanta? Or at least a requirement that instead of paying someone to hand carry the empty bins from the end of the screening line back to the beginning, they use a return conveyor system?
Or how about a requirement to have its screeners work split shifts – the morning rush, a break, then the afternoon rush. If it is good enough for bus drivers and many other workers, surely the TSA screeners can do it too (but see the note on the union, below….).
SEC. 5. TSA STAFFING AND RESOURCE ALLOCATION.
(1) Utilize the Administration’s Behavior Detection Officers for passenger and baggage security screening, including the verification of traveler documents, particularly at designated PreCheck lanes to ensure that such lanes are operational for use and maximum efficiency.
(2) Make every practicable effort to grant additional flexibility and authority to Federal Security Directors in matters related to checkpoint and checked baggage staffing allocation and employee overtime in furtherance of maintaining minimal passenger wait times and maximum security effectiveness.
(3) Disseminate to aviation security stakeholders and appropriate Administration personnel a list of checkpoint optimization best practices.
(4) Expand efforts to increase the public’s participation in the Administration’s PreCheck program, including deploying Administration-approved ready-to-market private sector solutions and offering secure online and mobile enrollment opportunities.
(5) Request the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (established pursuant to section 44946 of title 49, United States Code) provide recommendations on best practices for checkpoint security operations optimization.
(1) direct each Federal Security Director to coordinate local representatives of aviation security stakeholders to establish a staffing advisory working group at each airport at which the Administration oversees or performs passenger security screening to provide recommendations to the Administrator on Transportation Security Officer staffing numbers, for such airport; and
(2) certify to the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate that such staffing advisory working groups have been established.
(1) report to the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate regarding how the Administration’s Passenger Screening Canine assets may be deployed and utilized for maximum efficiency to mitigate risk and optimize checkpoint operations; and
(2) report to the Committee on Homeland Security of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate on the status of the Administration’s Credential Authentication Technology Assessment program and how deployment of such program might optimize checkpoint operations.
|A lot of text here, but what does it mean?
It seems there’s a commendable requirement to retask some of the totally useless ‘Behavior Detection Officers’ and put them to work doing regular productive things. Definitely a good step.
It requires the TSA to tell other stakeholders about a list of “checkpoint optimization best practices”, but that’s a oneway dialog going in the wrong direction.
The Act should be requiring the TSA to seek out, accept, and adopt, best practices proposed by other stakeholders, not to tell other stakeholders what they already know and can see.
It says the TSA should expand its PreCheck enrollment, by using already approved solutions. That’s a fairly underwhelming requirement! Online enrollment, if and when it comes to pass, would be a big step forward, but what are the timelines for this to transpire? How about also halving the membership fee – PreCheck members actually save the TSA money, so isn’t it strange the TSA is charging us money for the privilege of saving them money?
And it is all so vague. Why doesn’t the legislation say “Establish and activate an online enrollment procedure within 90 days.” That is a hard objective and a solid target.
The bureaucratic nonsense about establishing ‘staffing advisory working groups’, providing (non-binding) recommendations, and reporting that the groups have been established (but not on what they have achieved) is a total waste of words.
The point about dogs is unlikely to do any good, but quietens down the well-meaning agitators who say ‘we need more dogs’.
Dogs sometimes, selectively, might detect explosives. They don’t detect guns or knives. For those reasons, they won’t replace x-ray machines and metal detectors, so it is hard to see how they will speed lines up.
The report on the ‘credential authentication technology assessment program’ (a nice 17-syllable phrase, and you know what they say – the longer a title, the less meaningful the job) sounds good, but the delays aren’t in getting our driver’s license checked off against our ticket, so this is vaguely hinting at maybe solving a problem that doesn’t actually exist.
SEC. 6. AVIATION SECURITY STAKEHOLDERS DEFINED.
For purposes of this Act, the term “aviation security stakeholders” shall mean, at a minimum, air carriers, airport operators, and labor organizations representing Transportation Security Officers or, where applicable, contract screeners.
And, yes, let’s make sure the labor unions get their say. I’m sure they’ll eagerly support all possible measures to make their members twice as productive, allowing half of them to therefore be laid off. Although some critics might suggest that their work rules are creating some of the inefficiencies the TSA is struggling to surmount.
SEC. 7. RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.
Nothing in this Act may be construed as authorizing or directing the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to prioritize reducing wait times over security effectiveness.
|Just in case you missed it at the start of the Act, let’s repeat it again here.
“Hey, TSA guys – here’s your ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card – if you don’t do anything at all and lines stay long, blame it on security effectiveness.”
Passed the House of Representatives June 7, 2016.
That’s it. That’s the entire Act.
Where is the section requiring the TSA to adopt Delta’s productivity doubling measures? Where is the section mandating that line waits must never exceed so many minutes? Where is a section stating specific productivity goals and requiring them to be met? Where is the section increasing the TSA staffing cap? Where is the section returning some of the plundered $13 billion back to the TSA?
Where are the penalty provisions that apply to TSA senior staff members if improvements are not met? Why do the laws that bind us come with penalty provisions – fines, loss of ‘privileges’, and even jail time; but the laws for government departments have no negative consequences for the people who are charged with implementing them?
Most of all, where are the solutions to the present problems?