Trend Watch – What’s Ailing the TSA?

airport securityThe Senate-passed budget proposal to raise the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) passenger security tax is facing fire from airline industry group Airlines for America (A4A), but this is only the latest time the security agency has faced controversy over its efforts to keep wait times at the nation’s airports down.

A4A argues that the resolution, which would first double and then triple the tax, would unfairly impact the airlines, passengers and shippers who pay federal aviation taxes. Instead, A4A believes that implementation of risk-based security programs would be enough to trim operating costs by enhancing screening efficiency.

The budget resolution is part of the ongoing federal funding battle that has sparked the automatic sequestration funding cuts. Other industry groups, such as the U.S. Travel Association, have argued that the sequester cuts would create lengthy delays at airports and have pushed for Congress to provide solutions to keep air travel moving.

The TSA has been working to streamline the security process through risk-based security programs such as TSA PreCheck, which by the end of last year had spread to 35 airports nationwide. These programs allow the TSA to improve screening efficiency by offering passengers who give the TSA personal information in advance the opportunity to skip many parts of the screening process, so the TSA can focus the screening procedure on passengers about whom it knows less.

Some of the TSA’s other streamlining efforts, however, have not been without controversy. At the beginning of March the TSA made a major change to its screening procedures that allows passengers to carry small knives and other previously prohibited items in their carry-on luggage. Some passengers called the new policy “common sense,” while the union representing flight attendants at Southwest Airlines called the policy “dangerous and shortsighted.” The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) even called on the TSA to delay implementation of the policy, saying that more time was needed to consult with travel industry stakeholders.

The new knife policy, like many changes to the TSA’s policies, struck an emotional cord. In a scathing op-ed on CNN, flight attendant Tiffany Hawk noted that the logic behind rescinding the knife ban was less about protecting passengers and airline workers from potential hijackers and more about preventing hijackers from seizing control of the aircraft.

Nevertheless, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano continues to back the plan, which goes into effect April 25, 2013.

"It is kind of like Gilda Radner, you know, if it is not one thing, it’s another,” the secretary tells the CSM. “Frankly it is the right decision from a security standpoint. We're trying to prevent a bomb from getting on a plane. And if you are talking about a small knife, there are already things on a plane that somebody can convert into a small, sharp object."

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