May 22 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration wants to speed screening for as many as three in four travelers as it absorbs criticism for procedures that have led to pat-downs of children, seniors and members of Congress.
The agency envisions expanding enrollment in its PreCheck expedited-screening program beyond frequent flyers selected by airlines, Associate Administrator Doug Hofsass said yesterday. The agency would like to have 50 percent to 75 percent of the flying public use PreCheck, with the rest going through traditional, more intensive screening lanes, Hofsass said.
It’s a more ambitious acceleration of expedited screening than agency officials have previously disclosed.
“We’re going to have to get to the general population,” Hofsass said at a meeting of the TSA’s Aviation Security Advisory Committee at the agency’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
The effort is part of what TSA says is an effort to move away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach to airport security and stress intelligence-based methods. The 52,000-employee agency, created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has been the subject of recent congressional hearings into its equipment purchases, hiring practices and confrontations with travelers at checkpoints.
Last month, a checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport had to be closed after a baby wasn’t screened.
PreCheck members, who must be chosen by airlines and approved by the TSA, provide personal information up front so a background check can be completed before a flight.
If approved, those flyers get to go through separate queues and keep their coats, shoes and belts on as they pass through a screening machine. They can leave laptops and liquids in their carry-on bags.
The TSA is working with “many, if not most” of the 500 largest U.S. corporations to identify employees who should be eligible for PreCheck, Administrator John Pistole told the advisory committee. The agency is also looking to expand it within the military, among federal judges and possibly members of Congress, he said.
“The more we know about a traveler, the better a judgment we can make,” Pistole said.
The PreCheck program, which began last year, now operates with specific airlines at 15 U.S. airports, according to the agency. The program recently screened its 1 millionth passenger, Hofsass said. That compares with approximately 1.6 million who fly in the U.S. each day, he said.
Still a Target
The agency will always incorporate random measures “to prevent terrorists from gaming the system,” according to a TSA fact sheet.
The TSA is well aware that the vast majority of the 6 billion people it has screened since 2001 aren’t a terrorist threat, Pistole said. This month’s disclosure of an underwear-bomb plot thwarted by Saudi Arabia intelligence officials serves as a reminder that U.S. aviation remains a terrorist target, he said.
“Unfortunately, terrorists haven’t gone away,” Pistole said. “They’re still trying to design, construct and conceal improvised explosive devices.”
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