TSA PreCheck Screening Initiative
October 4, 2011
On October 4, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced a new pilot program to pre-screen domestic airline passengers. The TSA PreCheck Initiative will provide expedited screening to individuals who voluntarily provide information about themselves to security officials. In addition to other recent changes to screening procedures, such as those for children, the PreCheck Initiative highlights TSA’s continued shift toward a risk-based security model.
Q1: What is the PreCheck Screening Initiative?
A1: The new TSA program will allow eligible passengers to bypass many of the security measures in place at participating airports. Participants in the program can volunteer certain personal information that allows the TSA to complete thorough risk assessments of the travelers. If deemed eligible, PreCheck members flying domestically will be referred to an expedited screening lane at the security checkpoint.
As this is currently a pilot program, participation is limited. The program is restricted to four airports within the United States: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Miami International. Eligible passengers include frequent fliers with American and Delta Airlines, as well as members of the Customs and Border Protection’s current Trusted Traveler Programs. The TSA intends to expand this program to include additional airports and airlines if the program is deemed successful.
Q2: How does this depart from previous TSA policy?
A2: Previously, because the threat level posed by each passenger was unknown, TSA was required to implement time- and labor-intensive screening procedures. In contrast, the PreCheck Initiative is an intelligence-driven, risk-based approach that will allow security officials to concentrate on higher-risk and unknown passengers. Passengers will be screened in a more effective and efficient manner, increasing security while at the same time increasing the speed at which passengers pass through security.
Q3: What does it mean for the TSA and airline passengers?
A3: For air travelers, the PreCheck program may potentially ease the burdens of increased security measures. Frequent travelers participating in the program will no longer be required to pass through enhanced screening each time they fly, theoretically decreasing the time and effort required to board their flights. Those fliers not participating in the program directly may also see wait times lessened due to increases in efficiency.
For the TSA, this program represents another opportunity to move beyond the zero-failure construct that has been imposed on them. This construct has fueled inefficient policy and practice: the unrealistic expectation that the TSA must stop every terrorist threat has fostered policies that treat all members of the public as potential terrorists and, therefore, apply high levels of screening to each and every passenger. An untargeted model is burdensome for TSA, requiring the agency to expend manpower and resources inefficiently. Risk-based security initiatives such as PreCheck have the potential to improve screening efficiency by sharpening TSA’s ability to judge relative risk and allocate resources accordingly. While the viability of the PreCheck system is only beginning to be tested, TSA should be commended for its continued commitment to move toward a more targeted, risk-based screening model.
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson is director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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