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Response to We The People Petition on the Abolishment of the Transportation Security Administration
By John Pistole
Thank you for participating in the We the People platform, we respect the right of the petitioners to be heard and value the feedback we receive from travelers who share their experiences – good or bad – with us. The men and women of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have a challenging, but critical mission, and they take their jobs very seriously. TSA understands that the terrorist threat remains real and continues to evolve, as evidenced by the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day 2009 and the disrupted air cargo bomb plot last year.
Why TSA Exists.
TSA was created two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) [.pdf] to keep the millions of Americans who travel each day safe and secure across numerous modes of transportation.
Over the past 10 years, TSA has strengthened security by creating successful programs and deploying technologies that were not in place prior to September 11, while also taking steps whenever possible to enhance the passenger experience. Here are just a few of the many steps TSA has taken to strengthen our multi-layered approach to security:
Establishing an Intelligence-Driven Approach.
TSA uses intelligence in real-time to strengthen security and share key information with state, local, and international partners, to ensure they can respond to evolving threats.
Vetting of Passengers and Transportation Workers.
Today, 100 percent of passengers flying to, from, and within the United States are prescreened against terrorist watch lists under TSA's Secure Flight program. In addition, employees with access to airports and ports, and those who transport higher risk materials, are vetted to ensure a secure environment.
Screening for Explosives.
TSA screens 100 percent of carry-on and checked baggage for dangerous items including explosives. TSA has also deployed explosives-detection canine teams. The teams are used to detect explosives and deter terrorism in aviation, mass transit, and cargo environments.
Deploying Advanced Technology to Detect Evolving Threats.
As part of its multi-layered approach to security, TSA uses Advanced Imaging Technology and Automated Target Recognition software to detect metallic and nonmetallic threats, including weapons and explosives concealed under layers of clothing on passengers. Using Advanced Technology X-ray, Bottled Liquid Scanners and Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) Technology, TSA can more efficiently and effectively screen checked and carry-on bags for potential threats.
Covert testing provides TSA with valuable information that can be used to modify security measures, improve training and inform the development of future technology. The statistic cited in the petition was from testing performed nearly eight years ago and doesn't reflect the current security environment. Since then, TSA has implemented new security measures and deployed enhanced technology to address evolving threats to aviation.
Strengthening In-Flight Security.
Hardened cockpit doors and the Federal Air Marshal Service serve as additional layers of security against an act of terrorism.
Establishing a Professionalized Workforce.
Transportation Security Officers (TSO) working at 450 airports today are hired through a rigorous vetting process and go through extensive training that did not exist prior to September 11. Today's TSOs have an average of three and a half years of experience on the job and have a turnover rate of approximately 6 percent. This compares to an average of 3 months of experience and a turnover rate of 125 percent for screeners prior to the creation of TSA.
TSA's Next 10 Years.
TSA is working to enhance its risk-based, intelligence-driven security initiatives to strengthen security while continuing to improve the passenger experience whenever possible. Current efforts include: changing the way TSA screens passengers ages 12 and under, evaluating the expanded use of behavior detection techniques, and piloting expedited screening for known travelers. Efficiencies gained by implementing more risk-based security methods allow us to make the best possible use of the resources to secure air travel.
Additionally, new software has been deployed to further strengthen privacy protections by eliminating passenger-specific images on Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines. The new software has been installed on all millimeter wave AIT units currently in airports, with plans to test and deploy similar software for backscatter units in 2012.
Our Nation is safer and better prepared today because of these and other efforts of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, and our Federal, state, local and international partners. TSA is constantly identifying ways to continue to strengthen security and improve the passenger experience and appreciates the feedback of the public.
We invite you to stop by TSA's blog to continue this discussion.
John Pistole is the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration