“Partnership is key.”
Those were the words of TSA Administrator David Pekoske during TSA Industry Day, which was held virtually this year.
“What I would like to emphasize today is partnership,” Pekoske said. “Our capability providers [including aviation and surface transportation operators and small business owners] – that’s a partnership, and you greatly enable our ability to get the mission done, not just today, but in the future.”
TSA Industry Day brought together transportation partners from across the country to share TSA’s mission needs, offer possible business solutions and encourage stakeholders to provide input. This year’s theme was TSA Resilience and Responsiveness During COVID-19.
Pekoske cited two organizations as key sources of information for TSA industry stakeholders, which also provide input to TSA – the Aviation Security Advisory Committee and the relatively new Surface Transportation Security Advisory Committee created by the TSA Modernization Act in 2018.
“I rely a lot on both advisory committees,” he said. “I formally ask them for input on things we’re considering when we develop roadmaps. We interact significantly with our advisory committee members.”
In terms of technology investment, the Administrator said he wants to make the screening experience better for passengers while still improving security protection capabilities.
“There’s almost no reason why you can’t improve detectability and improve the passenger experience,” noted Pekoske. “So, what we put in place is a checkpoint screening system that looks at technology and customers to improve security, first and foremost, but also in a COVID-19 environment reduce the contact passengers and our officers have with each other as they go through screening.”
Pekoske touted the installment of new Computed Tomography (CT) X-ray technology at airports across the country, which he said is considerably better than the current technology and is beneficial from a public health perspective.
“When CT is installed, passengers don’t have to take small liquids, gels and aerosols out of their carry-on bags,” he said. “They don’t have to take out laptops or iPads and put them into a bin. Because of the on-screen resolution, we do far fewer bag checks now that we have CTs installed at some locations. In a pandemic recovery, the less opportunity for somebody having to reach into your bag to resolve an anomaly on an X-ray image, the better.”
After making his opening remarks, the Administrator participated in a fireside chat with Department of Homeland Security Office of Operations Coordination Director Christopher Tomney, who posed the following questions for Pekoske’s response:
Tomney: Why did TSA agree to do Industry Day?
Pekoske: More info. Getting more input and information is really important. I also hope we can broaden the partnerships we have as an agency. The more we can collectively be on the same page in terms of what things we need to do to protect the nation’s transportation systems and allow that freedom of movement of people and commerce, the more we think the same way and have similar priorities, the more likely we’ll collectively be successful.
Tomney: What is your number one challenge industry can assist with?
Pekoske: Insider threat, cybersecurity, cargo security. Our adversaries can be very agile. I’ve long wondered since and before I became the Administrator why we didn’t have better technology. In the past, when you’re using a magnifying glass to verify a driver’s license, that doesn’t seem to be the best way to do it. Now, we have a technology refresh [with for instance, the CT X-ray machines] in place. There’s a long way to go and such a significant difference in capability. I want us to be a lot quicker and a lot better at not just our technology base, but also changing our procedures.
Tomney: How has the pandemic altered your three strategic priorities for TSA?
Pekoske: The three strategic priorities stay the same – improve security, accelerate action, and commit to people. We’re not changing any of the identification verification plans; we’re just trying to accelerate them. I think the biggest change as a result of the pandemic for TSA is going to be long-term – the rapid acceleration of virtual work within the agency.
Tomney: What do you see as the trends for passenger travel?
Pekoske: Once the [COVID-19] vaccine is distributed to the U.S. population, we think that will change the trajectory of aviation and recovery. However, we think spring break will be less of a peak than in the past. We think the next major holiday for travel [after the 2020 holiday season] is likely to be Memorial Day depending on what happens with a vaccine and vaccine distribution. Memorial Day could be much busier than we would have predicted two or three weeks ago.
In closing, Pekoske offered his appreciation to TSA’s partners. “Thanks for your comments and input,” he said. “Never be hesitant to tell us what you think and what’s on your mind, because we can only get better if we have those frank and open and fruitful discussions.”