TSA Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell: Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) Public Safety and Security Fall Conference

Acting Deputy Administrator Patricia F.S. Cogswell
Tuesday, October 8, 2019


Good morning, and thank you so much for having me here today. It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to be with you and to be invited to have these kinds of conversations with you. We view the ability to have these open conversations on an ongoing day-to-day basis as absolutely critical to making sure that we're getting these programs right - that we know that when we make a change here or you need a change there, that we try together to reach the outcome to meet all of our collective needs, and we recognize that, frankly, security is something that is not an easy task.

The thing that you'd like to have the beautiful golden item on the hill is sometimes a number of years in the making, and it's only that ongoing partnership, year after year, the day in and day out work in the trenches that makes you be able to get there. So, thank you very much for having me here.

Summer Travel

I've looked over your agenda, and I have to say I'm very impressed with the sheer number of very important topics that you're going to be covering. So, today I thought I'd cover just a couple items. I found of particular interest that I wanted to inject and share with you at the start of the session. First, as has been noted, this summer was the busiest summer in TSA’s history. I said that last summer, too.

I'm thinking next summer I'm going to say the same thing again. This is a good thing for all of us. At the same time, it means we really need to kind of look at how do we see this as both an opportunity as well as a challenge. The fact that we have ongoing growth is a great thing for all of us. It also challenges us to think about new ways. I can't tell you how many airports I've been to where the answer is, “How do we put in yet one more lane, how do we reconstruct or move various things so that we can find a different way to streamline, move people faster, make way finding easier, make it less stressful on the traveling public.” These are great conversations to have, and I appreciate very much the ability to do so.

I just want to also highlight then, although there's an awful lot of attention on TSA on a day in, day out basis, for all those folks wearing the blue shirts at the checkpoint, we are a full service agency that relies on a lot of other folks. So every day, we have our federal air marshals, our intelligence and vetting operations, our surface and cargo inspectors as well as our aviation inspectors who play a critical role in the overall transportation security environment.


So, the next thing to highlight as (ACI-NA President and Chief Executive Officer) Kevin (Burke) already highlighted - REAL ID - a critically important deadline for us all, incredibly important for us to give people the maximum amount of time to be able to be ready for this deadline. It is one year away. For many states, they're moving full out. I was excited at our press conference to hear the District of Columbia is already at 74%. Maryland's at 50%. Virginia started issuing not all that long ago, so they're a bit farther behind. Other states are just coming online now, and so their numbers are not very high. But when you look at where we were, the number of states that were actually issuing compliant licenses in 2018 - 27. We're down to the last three states and two more territories left to go. We’ve come a huge way.

Our goal is at this point, how do we get the word out as strong and as many channels as we possibly can? We look for you to also help us not only understand how many people have REAL ID licenses, because the states tell us what percentage of the total number of license holders they’ve reissued to, but at the end of the day, how many travelers have a document that will be accepted? So, if the person says, “I don't have a REAL ID but I have a passport,” or “I don't have a REAL ID, but I have a military identification” – that's just as critical to us because that helps us size what's the percentage of the population that doesn't have any document to travel - critically important for us.

I also just highlight, through ongoing efforts, not only are we doing signage, we also have started where every one of our officers is advising travelers as they come up to that travel document checker at the podium to let them know about the deadline, and they will look at their license, and if it's not compliant, just let them know, by the way, next year this license won't be acceptable for traveling. So, we're trying as many ways as possible to make it as personal as possible, and we very much value your help with this.


Similarly following on Kevin's footsteps, I want to talk a little bit about budget. So, the good news is we have a series of control totals that have been agreed to across Congress and the White House - critically important because that lets us go into a continuing resolution. I am very pleased to be in a continuing resolution rather than talking about shutdowns. I don't know about you guys, but I would like to not talk about shutdown again anytime soon.

With that said, I think it's also critically important to highlight that the FY20 marks in both the House and Senate are pretty close to each other; there's a couple places where they're not quite the same, and they're also reasonably close to where we were for fiscal 19. So, that means from our perspective, we're pretty much able to stay where we were in the types of things we are doing. As was noted, law enforcement reimbursements back in the budget restored, exit lanes restored, our VIPR program is restored - all critically important programs that we are pleased to see receive support.

As we go forward into fiscal 20, what you're going to see is not only an emphasis on continuing the good work we have invested in but also some looks for where we need to be able to do more. So, not only does that include some areas where we would like to do more for our workforce, but also the fact that DHS needs stronger investment in both countering Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) as well as cyber capability. I think you all very well know the environment we are in with cyber, and I think you all know this is an area where a lot of work needs to be done - a lot of work as we think through how do we set the stage for the future of where we need to be. This is an area that we look forward to partnering very closely on as we go forward to figure out what the right mix angles is, that we can make this into our processes and systems.


Continuing on in technology. So, in both the fiscal 20 and fiscal 21 budgets, we are continuing our emphasis on the recapitalization of our checkpoints. In particular, as you know, this year's big push was for the computed tomography machines to replace our ongoing X-ray machines as well as the credentialing authentication technology that will both let us rapidly determine if a document might be fraudulent that's being presented, but also bounce against our Secure Flight data so that we can immediately know somebody's screening status and apply the right type of vetting - know their vetting status, apply the right type of physical screening to them at the checkpoint. Critically important for us; gets us away from solely relying on a boarding pass as part of our process.

As we go into this coming year, we're also emphasizing looking at new algorithms for the existing advanced imaging technologies, the AIT machines, and moving into a development cycle for the replacement for those. You may have seen several of them at a couple different airports. Denver's one of them where we are trying out new machines. Big benefits in terms of what footprint they have, not so enclosed as well as just the way they handle throughput, and we're quite interested in that process.

Airport screening

I want to talk a little bit next about some areas that we see coming up for opportunities. The first one is, as I highlighted before, I've been traveling to a lot of airports recently and talking to many of you about what's on your mind for what you want the airport, that you work on every day, day in and day out, to look like in the future. What are your plans, what are your thoughts, where are you growing? What do you see the changing dynamics in your throughput, sometimes as passengers? A couple places I've seen big cargo pushes, sometimes it's “I want to do more off-site,” and it's great to have these conversations. We love the fact that we're able to have these conversations early on because this is where we get to try out a few ideas.

So, one of the areas that we're interested in focusing on is how do we set up different types of screenings – couple of different discussions we have. So for example, a cruise terminal very near an airport, and what do you expect happens? All 5,000 passengers get off the boat at the exact same time, hop on a bus, all show up at the checkpoint at the same time. None of us really think that's the best way to handle throughput. How could we set up screening off-site so that they then go immediately into the sterile area. How do we look at if you have a mass transit location coming into the airport, or we could do the screening closer to the mass transit location. We want to have these conversations with you as you're looking at that infrastructure. What makes sense for you so that we don't have to try to retrofit later.

Similarly, as you're thinking about way finding, how to make it simpler for people to get through, how do we integrate with you so that when you want to have a wait time for the whole airport - parking to gate - we're just part of the piece along the path, and it's integrated throughout your system. All of those are areas that we want to partner with you, and look for ways that we both grow and improve together.

Reimbursable Screening Services Program

One of the angles on this aspect I wanted to just highlight is something Congress authorized just last year, which is the Reimbursable Screening Services Program. This lets us try out different things in places that we would otherwise not necessarily immediately see sufficient volume to justify us otherwise dedicating equipment, and people to it. So right now, you say, “I want to try out X in a specific location.”

There's a hotel, for example, that's right on your airport property, and they want to come immediately in, not in the volume on an ongoing basis for us to take out a lane off the main checkpoint and move it to the hotel. But, if there's enough interest, and you want to have the hotel or the airport say, “We will look to reimburse you for being there; we will work with you to make it happen.” Try it out, see what we get - very much an area that we want to try out - different ways of piloting not limited by what we can ask for in any given budget here. We don't want to have no way to work with you, and that's why this is critically important.

Transportation Security Equipment

Similarly, one of the angles that we have worked pretty heavily with a number of both airports and airlines is donations of transportation security equipment. Why is this important for us? I think all of you have long and storied history about how much easier it is for the private sector to go through acquisition cycles than it is for the government. We completely agree. What we've been often able to do with donations is speed up that process. By doing some of the donations early on, we move much faster through the testing including our operational testing. So, there's immediate benefits to that location, but the new equipment, but it also gets us through that requirements cycle and a testing cycle in a much more abbreviated time than a traditional government procurement.

Moving us much more rapidly to the place that we can go to Congress and say, “Here's what the full cycle is that we need you to fund and build.” So, what does that mean? For computed tomography, just as an example, we went through this as a process. Traditional government procurement for something of that size, you're probably talking about a three-year cycle. We managed to get to the first procurement in one year – big improvement for us.

There's a couple other places we see this type of advancement is really being potential process. Similarly, we look for different ways we can partner that isn't necessarily a gift but one that we just integrate, so the one I gave as an example for wait times. We don't see any reason that we should have a different system that's not integrated with the airport system. What we'd like to do is at those locations that are looking to build one out for your airport, how do we just tell you, “Here's the places we want to measure from; this is our standard for measurement. And then we just integrate with your system.” Other places who don't will look to acquire something there. But I don't want to be in competition with the airport; I want to be part of that airport experience.

TSA Precheck

Other areas of focus for us - increasing enrollment in Precheck. Recently, we hit it the one-year mark for the Precheck customers to start renewing, and we're actually seeing a very good uptake. Better than 71% of our applicants have already reenrolled, which is a big deal for us. Part of this was because we tried to make it as simple as possible, so most people are able to do it online.

Secondly, as we are moving into this new year, we have started a process of in-journey enrollment. So, rather than you have to go to a fixed location at a specific time, you're at the airport anyway and you have your documents, there will be somebody there standing there with a tablet, and you can just fully enroll with them right there. No going to an office, no setting a schedule, a separate appointment. All of this is about how do we find easy ways for people to become part of that process so that we can increase the number of people going through that part of our screening checklist.

Insider Threat

Last, I really want to spend some time talking about an area that we are working very closely with ACI-NA as through the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, and that's insider threat. So, I think all of you know that last year we requested the ASAC to do a review and develop a number of recommendations around insider threat. About 26 recommendations came forward; we accepted all of them and agreed with all of them. This is an area that I know we all are concerned about and want to figure out better ways forward, how we can and should do more. I will say that for me, I'm very excited about this work, because it really shows the opportunity space for us.

FBI Rap Back

So, just as a highlight of one specific item - the FBI Rap Back program. So, this is a process by which as airport workers get their first check or subsequent check, they're enrolled in the FBI system. What does that mean? That means the FBI will proactively notify us should new derogatory criminal history information become available. They proactively notify us. This also means it decreases reenrollment, because they don't have to keep sending back sets of fingerprints, because they have them on file. This is critically important for us - best way for us to know if someone has a new criminal history, best way for us to have good readily identifiable information if, for example, there was concern about someone committing fraud.

International Civil Aviation Organization Staff Screening

We have recently published a series of program amendments specifically for airports and airlines. We received some very good feedback through that, and we are finishing reviewing those comments and adjudicating them, and the process of drafting the final language, and are looking forward to moving forward in that program shortly.

Related to insider threat is something I know you all are also watching carefully which is the International Civil Aviation Organization discussions around 100% screening. As you all know, we recently had the administrator go up to Montreal to participate in those conversations, and he made a strong case and a strong push of the point of, well, while 100% physical screening is good if an airport doesn't have any other measures, it is not really alone sufficient as an ongoing program. It is actually harmful if you think that alone solves all your problems.

A magnetometer alone, a stadium searching bag will not tell you if someone has an explosive on them. So, solely relying on one fixed point at one point in time in comparison to a full program like we endorse here in the United States of vetting full access controls, intermittent screening and review and a review for explosives, not just prohibited items, is critically important.

And I think all of us can tell stories of the types of insider activity we are seeing now that wouldn't be caught by that kind of screening. And that's the story we're trying to tell. Not that we don't think this is critically important, because we absolutely do, not that we don't want to continue to see this grow, develop as we think about the best ways to defeat insider because we absolutely do, but we think that alone is not a solution. That mindset and approach as an only single point will not get us to where we need to be. So, that is our goal in that forum and we are pressing very hard.


With that, I think I've covered an awful lot of stuff. So, I'm going to just again say I very much appreciate every one of the airport visits I've been to, the conversations I've had while I've been out, the sheer amount I learn every time I go around and talk to you, the fantastic relationships I see on the ground between TSA and the airport directors, the ongoing work every day between compliance teams, screening teams, discussion about what volumes are going to be, discussion about “I'm going to move this piece of equipment here” or “I need to move this piece of real estate here,” that's what makes this work. The fact that we have that back and forth, the fact that we share the information we need to is how we get to where we need to be. I can't thank you enough for all of your help and support. So with that, I will say thank you.