TSA Tightens Up on PreCheck

by Lark Gould
TSA Tightens Up on PreCheck

A tweet posted on the TSA Twitter feed last week went like this: #TSA Week in Review – 34 Firearms Discovered This Week (28 loaded).

TSA’s airport security report a week earlier was much the same, but it’s worth noting that last week a passenger who had received TSA PreCheck clearance was carrying one of those weapons.

Not surprisingly, the Transportation Security Administration said last week that it would stop giving lucky, randomly selected air passengers PreCheck privileges, a practice which has allowed travelers to pass through faster airport security lines without having been fully vetted for and enrolled in PreCheck.

TSA is also looking carefully at TSA PreCheck passengers who enrolled through the usual channels.

Kinder, gentler TSA
Rolled out at airports across the country over the past year, PreCheck is part of TSA’s attempt to win over the hearts and minds of travelers who have been frustrated by slow-going lines and over-zealous TSA agents.

As most travel agents are well aware, the program allows travelers who have filled out forms and passed federal screenings to zip through dedicated security lines with their shoes and belts on, their laptops in their bags, and their cosmetics in their carry-ons.

PreCheck is for “trusted travelers” who are departing from U.S. gateways in domestic terminals. It is part of a larger global entry program that aims to speed up the flow of passengers through inbound customs and immigration,

Hoping for a ‘game changer’
To spread the word about PreCheck to the public, TSA had been partnering with airlines to randomly select passengers who could sample the PreCheck privileges.

Now the federal agency is working with third party vendors and travel consortia, TSA administrator John Pistole said in an interview at the Global Business Traveler Association conference last month.

“We wanted this to be a game changer for hundreds of thousands if not several million travelers,” he said.

Making it work
But maintaining security while facilitating passenger movement is a balancing act.

“There are persistent challenges from threats out there. We have to balance those threats against what we do with the budgets we have and the efficiencies we can manage,” said Pistole.

“We have 3,500 fewer employees than we had before, but we are able to do much more than before, and the security check lines are a lot shorter.”

Pistole noted that the tools have changed. Because today’s security equipment is so much more effective, more resources can go into managing trusted traveler programs that ease congestion at security check points.

Popular program
On a given day more than 2 million passengers pass through TSA lines in the U.S. About a million of those have some kind of trusted traveler status, including through PreCheck.

PreCheck is now available at 118 major U.S. airports.

More than 425,000 travelers enrolled in the program in its first year, which approaches TSA’s goal of signing up a quarter of domestic travelers for PreCheck by the end of 2013. (If PreCheck lines start to bulk up and slow down, TSA will simply create more of them.)

Mitigating the risk
There are still concerns about what comes into the U.S., Pistole admitted.

For instance, explosive liquids are often found in printer cartridges en route to the U.S. “The Underwear Bomber had a cylinder that was only 5 inches but filled with plastic explosive.

“We will never be able to fully eliminate risk without shutting everything down,” he said.
 
“How we do things is always subject to debate but shutting things down is not an option. You have to mitigate,” he said.

“We are not there yet, as we continue this journey from one size fits all to specific risk-based management,” Pistole said.

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