TSA Administrator David Pekoske: 2018 State of TSA

Administrator David P. Pekoske
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
As Prepared for Delivery


Thanks to Frank Cilluffo and the George Washington University for hosting us today. Your incredible work here at the Center makes a significant contribution to the security of our country. And Frank, you were one of the first employees of the Department of Homeland Security and remain a great friend to both DHS and TSA.

To those watching this live stream via TSA’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, thank you for joining us. And … good morning … to our employees watching this on our internal TSA TV channel.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge a large segment of our workforce that can’t stop and watch this event live because they are focused on screening passengers and baggage, inspecting cargo operations, testing new technologies, working with our international partners many time zones away or providing security to aircraft in flight. We celebrate all of you and thank you for your service.

I am honored to be part of the TSA team and I’m excited to share this first-ever State of TSA address with all of you.

Before I begin I want to circle back to that video we just saw. In those few minutes you can see that 2017 was an extremely busy year at TSA. We rolled out and tested innovative security technologies, continued to expand our Pre-check partnerships, and we took proactive measures to dramatically raise the baseline of global aviation security.

We also responded to what Mother Nature had to offer – with hurricanes and wildfires that devastated parts of our country from California to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In response to these events, not only did we send our thoughts and prayers, we also sent people and resources to help.

As you saw from that video, hundreds and hundreds of TSA employees volunteered to deploy with the FEMA Surge Capacity Force to help the people directly impacted.  

Our volunteers were away from their families for weeks on end to help other families and communities get back on their feet. These were not glamorous assignments but they were important … to us and to those we served.

The destruction is some of these communities was extensive. But despite their suffering, survivors were quick to extend a hand of welcome to our volunteers. Some went so far as to invite volunteers in to their roof-less homes and brew them a cup of coffee.

At the same time, hundreds more – Transportation Security Officers, canine teams, Visible Intermodal Protection and Response … or VIPR … teams – deployed to take care of our TSA family and help affected airports get back up and running quickly. In many cases, they helped to secure and repair damaged airport infrastructure, and slept on the floor of the terminal to ride out the storms.

You see, airports are critical to both the response and recovery of a community following a disaster.  We … TSA, CBP, the airports, airlines and local authorities … worked side-by-side to ensure flight operations could resume as soon as possible.  We … collectively … were very successful in doing this.  A difficult task carried out in such a way that it demonstrated the resiliency in our transportation system.

Our field leaders at all levels also displayed outstanding crisis leadership skills, maintaining security operations while ensuring the safety and well-being of our men and women.

And our headquarters team supported our affected employees, some of whom lost their homes. They collected gift cards and donations, set up emergency leave programs, arranged temporary and permanent relocations and implemented an innovative adopt-a-family program … all in a tremendous effort to help the thousands of TSA members impacted by the storms and fires.

Since coming to TSA I have been inspired by the dedication of TSA’s workforce to the mission … and to each other.

Let me give you an example.  Supervisory Federal Air Marshal Don Anderson, of our New York Field Office, illustrated this dedication in a most compelling way when he spoke on behalf of TSA at the DHS 15-year anniversary celebration last Thursday. Reflecting on his time in TSA, he said “While I am proud of my accomplishments … as I am of the achievements of my distinguished colleagues … I would in-fact trade it all in for a seat on any one of four flights on 9/11.”

That is dedication.  The memory of 9/11 motivates all of us to do our critical work in support of our fellow citizens every day in airports and surface transportation systems across our great country and beyond.

At the end of that video you saw a few examples of employees going well above and beyond – stories that exemplify the character of the TSA workforce.

I have invited some of the officers featured in that video to be with us today. And for Rick, Adam and Nancy, I will share your story and then at the end of the story I’ll ask each of you to stand so that we can all recognize you.

Lead Transportation Security Officer Ricardo Perez of Orlando walked right up to that smoking bag last November – which for all he knew was a bomb – picked it up and quickly identified where he could put it to minimize the effects of any possible explosion.
He didn’t run from the danger. He didn’t think of himself.  Instead – he quickly assessed the situation, trusted his instincts and took swift action. Everything he did that day was with the safety of others in mind. And he reminded us that our frontline officers risk their lives every day for the traveling public.

Ladies and gentlemen, please recognize Lead Transportation Security Officer Rick Perez.

Supervisory Transportation Security Inspector Adam Falise, based in Anchorage, Alaska, was waiting to board a flight home with his wife at Fort Lauderdale airport when the shooting started. We all remember that tragic day in early January just over a year ago. Adam wasn’t even on duty that day but he reacted quickly and calmly to a terrifying situation and saved lives. He trusted his instincts and acted quickly.

Around that same time, Transportation Security Officer Nancy Medeiros was in the middle of a routine bag search at the checkpoint when she heard what sounded like gun shots. After another Officer radioed a Code Red, she escorted over a hundred people – including families with small children - to safety.

Ladies and gentlemen, please recognize Supervisory Transportation Security Inspector Adam Falise and Transportation Security Officer Nancy Medeiros.

Each of these officers demonstrated through their own actions, the courage and dedication of our entire workforce. For their actions, Officer Perez and Inspector Falise received the Gerardo Hernandez “In the Line of Duty” national service award at TSA’s Honorary Awards Ceremony in December.

Officer Hernandez was the first and, God willing, only Transportation Security Officer to be killed in the line of duty. He was tragically shot and killed at a checkpoint at LAX over four years ago by an active shooter.  We continue to honor his service and sacrifice with this award.

The three officers I just highlighted are an important part of a workforce that is over 60,000 strong. A capable and diverse workforce with a complex, expansive … and absolutely critical mission.

TSA History and the Threat

As many of you know, TSA was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and given the urgent mission of preventing another large scale act of terrorism on the American transportation system.

Just a few days ago at the DHS 15th anniversary celebration we heard from a panel that included Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former Secretaries John Kelly, Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge. During that panel – which was moderated by Frank Cilluffo – Secretary Ridge reminded us of those frantic early days after 9/11, and his experience as our first Secretary in literally building the department from the ground up.

He also eloquently identified one of the challenges we face as a security organization, that “it is difficult to celebrate success when success means that something didn’t happen.”

In the years since 9/11, we have been successful in our fundamental and vital mission, but we must remain ever-vigilant.

Aviation and surface transportation hubs remain highly prized targets for terrorists. Their modes and methods of attack have evolved and become much more decentralized and opportunistic than ever before.

Therefore, we can no longer focus solely on the elaborate plots that the established terrorist groups have pursued since 9/11. Today we are also confronted by a current of less sophisticated techniques and tactics, where lone wolves, many radicalized on the internet, are using inexpensive and low-tech methods to target Americans.

We can no longer focus only on preventing the bad guys from getting into the secure area of an airport. More and more we must focus on both sides of the checkpoint and in the public areas where airport and surface transportation systems intersect. We face ambitious adversaries who are continuously looking for a point of attack and waiting for their opportunity. Our job is to make sure they never have that opportunity.

Our Approach

Since coming to TSA six months ago, I have made it a priority to meet with TSA employees, industry leaders, Members of Congress, international colleagues and other stakeholders. These discussions have only strengthened my conviction that securing our transportation systems requires a proactive and agile agency … embodied by a professional workforce … that coordinates closely with key partners in government and industry.

For TSA to continue to succeed in our mission, we must not only focus on addressing the threat where it is today, but also on our capabilities for the future.

In order to stay ahead of the threat – TSA must think faster and act faster. We must be faster to minimize vulnerabilities and make risk determinations, and we must be faster to acquire and deploy new technology to the front lines.

We must engage, inform and empower the public to see themselves as part of the security solution and as recipients of a secure system. Security is a collective effort and it takes all of us to secure the homeland.

We have to think more strategically and make the most of our resources. That is what our new TSA Strategy calls on us to do.


Our Strategy, which will guide TSA through our 25th anniversary in 2026, identifies three key priorities that are most critical to our continued success.

Improve Security

The first is to support and strengthen frontline operations – TSA’s bread and butter – and improve performance in our core security operations. That, of course, includes getting our Transportation Security Officers better tools, better procedures and better training. Additionally, we must continue to support the owners and operators of surface transportation systems who do the important work of securing pipelines, buses, rail, freight, maritime, and mass transit systems.

It also includes focusing on things most people don’t see, like vetting, analysis of intelligence information, raising global aviation security standards, inspections, air marshals in flight and partnerships with industry.

We know our adversaries … those that want to do us all harm … are continuously evolving their tactics.  We need to reflect on this fact.  When our adversaries evolve, they concede that we have been successful today and they demonstrate that they have not given up on attacking us tomorrow.

Accelerate Action

Second – I mentioned before the importance of thinking and acting quickly. This is an area where TSA has struggled as we have grown further removed from our entrepreneurial start-up days immediately following 9/11.

In this Strategy we recommit ourselves to that entrepreneurial spirit. We are looking at everything we do with an eye towards innovation. Asking ourselves “how can we foster continuous improvement in our processes and technologies and make the most of the resources we have?”

Innovation is central to our continued success, and our Innovation Task Force spends every day trying to answer that question. The Innovation Task Force is collaborating with industry … airlines, airports and equipment manufacturers … to find and deploy the very best technology for increasing security and improving the passenger experience. 

We are also looking closely at ways to improve processes and structure. We will be adjusting our organizational structure to make us more proactive and agile.

Commit to People

And third, we must recommit ourselves to our workforce. The greatest technology in the world won’t help us if we don’t have trained and motivated security professionals leading at every level. We will invest so that we can attract, hire, train, develop, retain our workforce … to make TSA an employer of choice.  Everyone who is a part of TSA will reflect our core values of … integrity, respect, and commitment … each and every day in their service to America.


Securing our nation’s transportation system is a complex task and government cannot do it alone. Transportation security is a collective effort and all of us have a role to play. When we perform our roles well, we create a choreographed partnership defined by a shared commitment to safety and security.

With this strategy, we focus on safeguarding all modes of transportation.  This is accomplished through the dedicated men and women of TSA and through our partners, stakeholders, and the American public.  Security is our common objective and we can best achieve it through shared and complementary effort.  That is the essence of our new Strategy … one that will guide us to accomplish our mission of protecting America’s transportation systems while ensuring the freedom of movement of people and commerce.

Since our inception, TSA has lived by the motto Not on My Watch. This has served as a powerful call to action for the TSA workforce. It is my hope to encourage an even stronger relationship between those outside TSA and those within, by acknowledging everyone’s role in our shared security mission. Together we will adopt and embrace a new creed: Not on Our Watch.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this morning and thank you for all that you do … and will do … to secure our transportation systems.