Remarks at Aero Club

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Administrator David P. Pekoske
Thursday, January 18, 2018
As Delivered

Opening Remarks

Thanks, Margaret, I appreciate that introduction and I really appreciate the opportunity to come here to the Aero Club relatively new into my tenure as the TSA Administrator. I've really enjoyed the five months I've been in this position, and part of what I've enjoyed is the opportunity to get to know the aviation industry.

I truly view you all as great partners of the Transportation Security Administration. We very much have shared interests and I'm looking forward to working closely together with all of you in the next several years.

I'm also really honored to speak to you on behalf of the men and women of the Transportation Security Administration about the future of aviation security.

Orville Wright plays prominently into the Aero Club’s history and Orville once said that an “airplane stays up because it doesn't have the time to fall.” For me, that quote captures the simplicity of flight in a plane. Originally, my remarks said, the simplicity of flight, but my background is in the Coast Guard and we have helicopters so I know you don't need to move forward to stay in the air. But as long as you're moving forward, you're flying and it works as a great metaphor for aviation security, because as long as we're innovating, we're in a position to stay ahead of the threat.

That's why, to meet the security challenges of today and anticipate the demands of tomorrow, TSA is constantly re-imagining and innovating the aviation security system. And I have increased the throttle a lot on that and I've gotten a lot of help in increasing that throttle. I will tell you that the support we've had from industry has been just tremendous.

Evolving Threat

Together with industry we've been able to deploy technologies and security systems at airports much, much faster. In fact, it was speed of light compared to what the government would have been able to do by itself. I think in the long term, once the government gets into the acquisition process for some of these systems, we will be able to significantly shorten that process. I really appreciate the partnership with industry in that regard.

For me, one of the most important things, looking at security, is to try to anticipate the challenges of tomorrow. I'm sure this is not news to anybody here in this room, but the threat to aviation and surface transportation is real, it's persistent and it's increasingly hard to predict. The current trend, as we've seen in this country and in Europe, is of lone wolves self-radicalizing on the internet, and conducting spontaneous attacks. That just makes it even more challenging for us to provide security in the transportation system.

When you see this kind of radicalization going on and consider the difficulty in predicting who might be radicalized, it’s clear that we must adjust our posture to be much more agile, more creative, and more proactive. That means we can't be afraid to try new things and to have big goals. What we try to do in TSA is to manage risk. In my opinion, to manage risk, you have to understand the risk and you have to understand where you perhaps can take additional risk to cover risk you haven't covered in the past.

Innovating Technology

So today, I want to talk about the future of aviation security and about my strategy for TSA at the 30,000-foot level, or even better, the 43,000-foot level. I went online this morning and I pulled up the cruising altitude – or service ceiling – of some of our newest aircraft, and the 787's service ceiling is 43,000 feet. I'm learning some of the lingo in this industry.

In November, I spoke to a RAND policy forum out in Santa Monica and painted a picture for the audience of what the aviation security system might look like in five years, where a vetted passenger with an enhanced version of TSA Pre✓® would be able to proceed through security with only minimal delay.

I know that might be hard for you to imagine how we get from our standard checkpoint of today to that checkpoint of the future but I believe to achieve great things, we must have very aggressive goals.

And I would also offer to members of this audience, we have a facility over at Ronald Reagan Airport called the Transportation Security Integration Facility and that's a facility we use to test out new technology to see how it works, to see how systems can integrate with each other because our security checkpoints need to be viewed as a system overall. And I would just invite you to come out, if you have the time, and we can arrange it through the Aero Club, just to see some of the stuff that we're testing out at TSIF.

One of the more promising things that I see is certainly the computed tomography X-ray scanners, which I'll talk about more fully in a minute. But we also have a system where, rather than using the advanced imaging technology, which is the machine you walk through that scans your body and detects anomalies on a person's body, there's a new technology where with just a series of panels we will be able to detect any on-person anomalies that we would want to further investigate before you proceeded into the sterile area. In the future, this would allow you to literally walk through security.

Industry Partners

The history of aviation is defined by aspiration, innovation, and iteration and I think that aviation security should be as well. That's why we started an innovation task force so that we would have an in-house group of very smart people working closely with industry and pushing the envelope. The Wright brothers just didn't want to build a glider with a motor, they wanted to build an airplane. And after they built an airplane, they wanted to build a better airplane.

After being in the Coast Guard for 33 years I left government and worked in the private sector for about seven years. It was amazing for someone like me, who knows the government pretty darn well, to see how opaque the government can appear to somebody who's not currently on the inside.

The innovation task force is our effort to make ourselves much more transparent and much more responsive to industry initiatives. And we need to be as open, as transparent for small businesses that have very good ideas on ways to insert technology into the security system, as well as large businesses. My view, personally and professionally, is that aviation security is most effective when policymakers and regulators understand, value and integrate industry and other stakeholder perspectives within our operations. For us to be successful, we must understand each other's environments and we must align our security outcomes.

The approach I will use as TSA Administrator -- already have been using it since I've been in office -- is that it is our job to describe the security outcomes we need to achieve and then, in partnership with our industry partners, airports, airlines, state, and local public safety and law enforcement, figure out how we best achieve that security outcome. I would really prefer to be in a position of talking about outcomes and having a dialogue about the activities to support those outcomes than being a government agency that simply prescribes activities to an industry that already has a lot of other constraints on them.

From my perspective, if we can achieve an outcome in a manner that's more advantageous to industry, then we ought to do that. This is why in my first several months as the Administrator, I've made it a priority to visit with airline and airport partners in their own environments to understand their operations better. When I’ve made these visits, I have dedicated an entire day to companies or industry segments. I'm not looking to visit the industry and do a flyby, literally.

I really want to understand, and I think it's in the industry's interest that I understand some of the nuances, because if you just do a quick touch and go, you'll get a sense and you'll meet key individuals, but you won't get the deeper understanding that I think is important to do the job well.

Only by working together with industry and combining our intellectual capital and innovative ideas with our technological capabilities can we get ahead of tomorrow's threats and provide the effective level of security and efficiency that the public has come to expect. These partnerships with industry are the keys to unlocking the innovation and capabilities TSA needs to excel at our mission today and into the future.

We must all take ownership for the security of our aviation system and we enthusiastically welcome your partnership in shaping the future of aviation security.

Aviation Security

Coming down a bit from altitude, here's the headline; I'm deeply committed to strengthening TSA's position as the world's leading transportation security organization. And so you'd ask, what does that really mean?

It means that we will continue to set an example and model of gold standard for aviation security for the world.

It means that we're working hard to improve threat detection in domestic security. On the domestic side, with respect to detection, we've shown some improvement but clearly, more needs to be done.

Our new enhanced carry-on bag procedures for domestic flights have helped our officers identify potential threats more effectively. And we're working on a capital investment plan with an eye towards a comprehensive technology refresh at the checkpoint. TSA does not currently have a capital investment plan for the agency. That makes it hard when the agency goes into the federal budget process to really project out for our Department for the Office of Management and Budget, hey, we're asking for this project. What are the future out year requirements to support that project? I think it's really important to be fair to lay that out for our internal government overseers so that they can make smart decisions and smart trade-offs on which projects to fund. I also think it's really important, having come from industry, to give the industry a sense of what we're planning, what we're thinking, not just for the upcoming fiscal year, but four years forward from that so that we can all plan together. We can focus research and development efforts on things that we know will actually get funded in the long-term. So, the capital investment plan, I think, is going to be a very critical element of that.

It also means that we will continue to work aggressively to raise the global baseline of aviation security with carriers and international partners and I think we've done -- collectively -- a terrific job of that. We put out some enhanced measures -- particularly related to personal electronic devices that came into effect in mid-July of last year, and then we put a second set of requirements for last point of departure airports flights coming to the United States for personal interviews and around aircraft and catering security.

Last Point of Departure Airports

Those measures came into place in October of this year. We're in the process now of visiting all the last point of departure airlines and looking at how they're complying with those measures and certifying that they are in compliance. And that will take us the better part of this year to complete. But from perspective, we have raised the bar of global aviation security. It's at a level significantly higher than what it was in June of last year, but still more needs to be done. And we're looking -- working collaboratively with industry and our international partners to determine what additional steps need to be taken over time. And that will be a very -- trust me, it will be a very collaborative exercise so that we all kind of understand what's driving the need to raise aviation security even further than what it is today, and what kind of measures, and what would be the impact of those measures on air travel when we go ahead and implement them. It means that there will be much more dialogue certainly, over the coming months, and it also means in raising the bar, that we'll accelerate our actions and improve the speed and quality of our decisions and reduce the time it takes to deploy new and proven technologies to the frontlines. I'm developing a strategy for TSA at this point in time and I have worked very collaboratively with the industry to get input as to what that strategy should contain.

Working with Industry Partners

We're at the point now that probably later today or certainly on Monday, the industry partners that helped us build that strategy will get a draft of that strategy that they'll see and it truly is a draft. I'm mean it's going to be just in print -- black and white print, not any glossies or anything because I don't want to convey to folks that hey, here it is, we want your comments but yeah, I don't know if we can fit that comment around that picture at all. It is the words and thoughts that reflect what you said to us, and what some of my internal leaders said as well. And I would really appreciate your candid and frank comments on that strategy because that will sort of be the north star for TSA. Where's TSA going in this five to seven-year window going forward? And then for me, personally, I'll publish an Administrator's Intent that basically looks at that strategy and says, okay, in a shorter time horizon, what kinds of things, as the Administrator, do I want to get accomplished and how do I assess responsibility inside TSA for accomplishing those initiatives, working closely with all of you.

The other part that I think will be music to your ears is that I really focus on every job that I've been in for just about my entire life; I am not a fan of taking a long time to get to a decision. And I know that we take a long time sometimes to get to a decision on certain things. I would say that the decisions I've seen us make have been good decisions and the way to them has been lengthy. One of my key central areas of focus is, how we can get to a decision faster and how can we get to solution faster. It's one thing to get to a decision, it's another thing to get to a solution. We've had tremendous support within the administration and up on the Hill to speed up TSA's acquisition process and I think that's critically important. If you're looking at a threat that is constantly changing, very dynamic, and very significant, we cannot be at the speed of government in working this forward. We need to work much faster than that and we've gotten a lot of support for that initiative.

Technological Investments

The technology investments that I'm thinking about are not pie-in-the-sky; I'm talking about technology that is proven and effective at improving threat detection. And some examples would be computed tomography X-ray equipment at the checkpoints. We've used a CT or CAT scan equipment in our check baggage operations for 15 years.

We know the technology, it works, it's just when we initially put it in the checked bag environment, the machines were way too big to ever fit in the checkpoint. Now machines are much smaller than that, much more compact and don't require the power that the check baggage machines do require and are very suitable for the checkpoint operation. From my perspective as well, when I visit with the Transportation Security Officers, which is really, as the Administrator where I look at it from their shoes. You know, those men and women who do a very difficult job need to look up at me as their Administrator and say, that's the person who's going to do the things that enable me to do the job that I've been asked to do. And so, I want to make sure that we give them the best tools we can give them to do the job that they're doing because they are seriously, the last line of defense we have before somebody gets onboard an aircraft that perhaps shouldn't get onboard the aircraft. CT technology, for those of you that are familiar with it -- gives a -- rather than a two-dimensional image for the person looking at the X-ray image, it gives a three-dimensional image. It also will be able to detect a much wider range of explosives at a much, much lower weight. Both of those things are really important for us for security in the future.

The other technology that we're looking at is a credential authentication technology. The first person you go up to in a TSA checkpoint is the travel document checker. And right now, when you walk up to that individual, he or she takes your driver's license and literally looks through a magnifying glass to basically validate that the driver's license has the right markings. This new technology will allow that officer to insert your driver's license, which will be, very soon, a Real ID compliant driver's license. The machine will validate that driver's license authenticity from a markings perspective, pull information from the driver's license, and then bounce that information off of our secure flight data system, which is basically what we use to determine who gets to fly on the aircraft, who's a TSA Pre✓® passenger, who's a standard passenger, and who might be a selectee. And so, what that will do for us is give us a much better validation of identification and also give us a real-time look at what that person's status is with respect to boarding the aircraft. We piloted the credential authentication technology in a number of airports and for the passenger, what that means is you don't need a boarding pass to get through the TSA checkpoint. You provide your driver's license, passport, all your flight information; we're going to have it in real time, so we can see obvious need for a boarding pass.

The final technology I'll talk about this afternoon is the automated screening lines. It's the technology I referred to earlier, that really got a kick start due to the generosity of airports and airlines around the country. Great technologies. It's used in Europe. It allows you, when you walk up the checkpoint, rather than serially, one person after the other, waiting for the person in front of them to get done with divesting, putting their stuff in bins before it goes on the conveyor belt, five people or more can do it simultaneously, which is really handy. I think that increases throughput, for sure. It also decreases frustration to a degree. If you're behind a passenger that might not be as familiar with what the procedures are, it allows that passenger to not get pressured to move faster and it allows you to move to one of the open lanes within the automated screening lane. The part about the ASLs that not a lot of people understand is that, from a security perspective, it provides enhanced security for TSA. It is a better process for screening a bag. it's also a better process for the bags that we identify that need to be searched because the X-ray detected an anomaly or something that we're concerned about in the bag. It's a better process to separate those bags. They are all barcode attached and there is a visual photo. So, when a person is looking at the X-ray image, you can imagine looking at an X-ray image and you're actually not looking at the bag visually, you're just looking at the image. This captures a photo of the bag and puts that photo right next to the X-ray image.

You can literally compare and contrast things going back and forth, which really enables our TSO's with the tools they need to do the job, as I mentioned earlier. The other thing; when I think about the future of security, we're looking at greater risk segmentation and continued TSA Pre✓® expansion and a more seamless travel experience for vetted passengers. This means that we will invest in training our people with a common-sense approach to security. So, what that may mean, potentially, is that we are looking at this. This is not something we've decided to do, but what it may mean is that our Transportation Security Officers will have a bit more discretion to apply the standard operating procedures that we have at the checkpoint. They're all trained in behavior detection and we're looking at what level we might be able to provide our TSOs more discretion in providing security overall. I think that will increase security effectiveness and certainly increase security efficiency.

TSA Workforce Milestones

Before I conclude, I want to say a few words about the TSA workforce. As the Administrator, I'm proud to lead a large, geographically dispersed group of security professionals. Though TSA is mostly recognized for our distinctive blue uniformed officers in airport checkpoints, our mission doesn't begin and end there.

Our officers screen checked baggage for explosives. Oftentimes, what you don't see is that checked baggage operation going on, usually below the checkpoint. And our Federal Air Marshals provide security at 30,000 feet or higher. Our vetting teams make sure that the bad guys don't get into the system in the first place and our inspectors make sure that important security regulations are followed. Finally, our international country and industry representatives reflect the global nature of this industry. So there's a lot to TSA that many people don't think about. They think of the officers in the checkpoint, they are certainly the most visible piece of the agency, a very critical part of the agency, but there's a lot more to the agency than that.

A lot of people work behind the scenes to make sure that security is in place throughout our system. I could go on and on about my team and I probably will, because I think over the holiday travel season, our officers, just to give you a statistic, screened more than 44 million passengers. And we had some days where we had 2.7 million passengers going through our screening checkpoints on a given day and more than 30.6 million checked bags nationwide, so that's a huge volume of checked baggage going through. What really impressed me about this is that they accomplished this while we were changing our security procedures. We enhanced our security procedures beginning at the end of the summer, which required that increased divestiture on the part of passengers in that enhanced security process I described earlier.

We increased security effectiveness and also, if you looked at the data, we were, on average, within our standards for throughput. Our standards for throughput in TSA Pre✓®, is 10 minutes or less and in the standard lanes, 20 minutes or less. I get an alert on my cell phone whenever one of those standards are not in place at any airport in any check line across the country, and so we very, very carefully monitor that. Since I've been the administrator, I have emphasized to my workforce that their most important job is security effectiveness. I do not want any Transportation Security Officer to look at a long line of passengers and say, okay, I need to move this line along, I'm going to do a little bit different security based on a line. I think the lines are a management and a resource responsibility and, from my perspective, the federal security directors that we have at each and every airport across the country; it's their job to make sure that we have the right people at the right checkpoint at the right time. We can only do that based on the great information we get from the airlines and the airports as to what the throughput is to expect.

We literally, in advance of a holiday period, take every lane at every airport and model what the throughput is going to be and look at where we have our resources to make sure we have those resources in the right place.

When the Wright Brothers set up camp at Kitty Hawk to test their aircraft, who could've imagined just how integral our aviation would become to the daily lives of Americans in the future? Who, except probably the founders of this club.

So, please join me in embracing the big ideas that will move us forward to meet the threats now and into the future. Also a personal request; when you go back through a checkpoint, I would appreciate it, if our officers do a good job, that you tell them that because they have a pretty difficult job to do. I mean, they're standing on their feet for long shifts. The way we work search periods is we put a lot of our officers on overtime, so they're working a long day. They don't often get the best feedback from passengers, as they go through, but from my perspective and as I look at the data, as I meet my team as a new Administrator, I think they really do an outstanding job. And like I said, my job is to really enable them to do even better because we do need to do better in security.

You can never be at a point where you say, okay, we're doing good enough. We always need to do better and so, I'm laser focused on providing them better procedures, providing them better technology, and certainly better training to do the job that they do. It would be very helpful to me and I think helpful to security overall, if as you, as aviation professionals, as you go through those checkpoint lines, if you see them doing a good job, tell them. That's really a boost because they don't get enough of that feedback and I would very much appreciate it. So, with that, let me conclude my remarks and I'd be happy to answer any and all questions that you have. Thanks.