The U.S. Transportation Security Administration plans to test using a private vendor next year to expand its expedited-security program at airports, Administrator John Pistole said.
Consumers who aren’t part of an airline frequent-flier program would be able to pay a vendor a fee to undergo a security check based on criteria set by the agency, Pistole said in an interview. The company would notify TSA who gets approved, and applicants who pass a second review by the agency would be admitted to the PreCheck program, he said.
“Taxpayers aren’t paying, footing the bill on this, and that’s the beauty of it,” Pistole said in the interview in New Orleans, where he addressed the American Bar Association Aviation Law Forum. “It’s really recognizing the strength of private industry to provide a solution that helps a government function.”
The pilot program may help TSA rapidly expand the number of people who can use PreCheck, a key component of Pistole’s strategy to move the agency toward risk-based security instead of treating all travelers the same.
PreCheck participants can keep their shoes, belts and sport coats on at airport checkpoints, keep their laptops in cases and and leave toiletries packed in their luggage. The program has cleared more than 3 million passengers so far. PreCheck lines are available at 29 U.S. airports through five participating airlines.
Still, the 1 million PreCheck screenings a month that Pistole projects for next year probably will be about 2 percent of U.S. passengers, far from the 50 percent to 75 percent that agency officials say they want to move into the speedier lines.
TSA has relied on airlines to nominate PreCheck candidates from among their best customers. Because not all airlines participate, and some consider frequent-flier information secret, a passenger qualifying under one airline can’t use PreCheck if flying another carrier. Agency officials have said they don’t have the technical capability now to create a clearinghouse that might resolve the roadblock.
Under the new approach “you could be an infrequent flier but still a known, trusted person because of your background,” Pistole said.
U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican who oversees the agency through his Transportation Security subcommittee, said earlier this month that the agency needs to turn to a private-industry partner that can market the program and create a database of PreCheck fliers.
“Taxpayers are already spending billions every year on TSA,” Rogers said in an e-mail today. “Risk-based screening should be the standard operating procedure, not an extra cost to the traveling public.”
Companies that have made unsolicited proposals to expand PreCheck have told the agency the new approach could add “tens of millions” of travelers to the program, Pistole said. About 650 million people fly each year.
The TSA wouldn’t need to go through a rulemaking process to start the program, though it may sign a contract with a company, Pistole said. “It allows us to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way,” he said. “You can do this without years of rulemaking.”
Pistole declined to say which companies have been involved in discussions.