Why Trusted Traveler initiative is doomed to failure

Why Trusted Traveler initiative is doomed to failure

NB: This is a guest post article by Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition.
Because of controversies surrounding more aggressive airport security pat-down procedures and full-body imaging machines, the 2010 November and December holidays shone a bright light on the ineffectiveness and high cost of current aviation system security policy.
security guard
Few airline and security industry experts would quarrel with the observation that treating all passengers as equal threats to the aviation system is ineffective and wasteful.
“There must be a better way” has become the new mantra; the Trusted Traveler (TT) program has once again been identified as the preferred strategy.
There was Congressional and traveler support for TT after September 11 2001, and BTC surveys since have validated continued support. Moreover, organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents, National Business Travel Association, Reason Foundation and US Travel Association have strongly advocated such a positive-profiling program.
The US Congress in 2001 authorized a TT program to be administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and financed and implemented by private-sector firms.
The first iteration of the program failed on every level – including lack of support from TSA – and abruptly ended in 2009. The program has recently been revived at a handful of airports.
However, the initiative will once again be doomed to failure unless economic and operational structural modifications are made.
Required changes:
1. Member Background Checks
TSA needs to assume from TT vendors the responsibility for managing members’ background checks. Instead of crosschecking a member’s name against the national terrorism watch list, more robust criminal history background checks need to be conducted on members, and recertified at regular intervals.
2. RT Vendor Technology Ownership
It was flawed thinking from the beginning that program vendors would compete for customers and differentiate themselves by implementing innovative screening technologies in security lanes, as was made abundantly clear with the plagued and infamous GE shoe scanner.
TSA controls an approval process that effectively blocks the kind of innovation-based competition envisioned by early program proponents. Moreover, such a process sets the stage for Congressional oversight wherein in response to queries regarding lack of progress with advanced screening technologies, TSA points fingers at program vendors, and vice versa.
A more effective and cost-efficient structure would be for TSA to own the complete screening technology sourcing budget and process such that:

  • Transparent accountability would be ensured
  • A consistent security product would be deployed across the aviation system
  • A more strategic view would enable visibility to how new screening technologies could be implemented for the benefit of all airline passengers and leveraged into required uses in other transportation modes.

A TSA-owned screening technology approach would allow TT vendors to fully concentrate on the complex consumer-marketing task of developing a national TT program with millions of members integrated with Global Entry, or “International TT”.
3. Member Enrollment Model
A central reason the program in its first iteration only grew to a couple of hundred thousand members, instead of a couple million members with sustainable economics, was an incredibly inefficient and high-cost biometric enrollment process that served as a chokepoint for the program and forced it into a tailspin before a national critical mass could be achieved.
Essentially, prospective members had to plan in advance to enroll at participating airports, or program vendors had to ship and provide staff for enrollment kiosks on large corporate campuses.
Wrap-up
In contrast, what is needed is a strategic partnership with an organization owning a nationwide network of thousands “storefronts” (eg. FedEx Kinkos) where enrollment kiosks and staff could be efficiently deployed and where prospective TT members could conveniently schedule enrollment appointments.
Never has there been so much support for risk-based transportation security policy.
A TT program would enhance national security and improve our economic output through increased business travel and commercial transactions and free scarce economic resources for pursuing terrorists where they sleep.
NB: This is a guest post article by Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition.

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