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  4. Written testimony of TSA Administrator John Pistole for a House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Homeland Security budget hearing titled "Resources for Risk-Based Security"

Written testimony of TSA Administrator John Pistole for a House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Homeland Security budget hearing titled "Resources for Risk-Based Security"

Release Date: February 27, 2013

2359 Rayburn House Office Building

Good morning, Chairman Carter, Ranking Member Price, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) ongoing efforts to expand and improve our risk-based, intelligence-driven operations, to drive efficiencies into the organization.

Since its creation, TSA has continuously refined and evolved our security approach by examining the procedures and technologies we use while ensuring the freedom of movement for people and commerce. The TSA functions as a critical component of our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts with a highly dedicated workforce working around the clock and across the globe to execute our transportation security responsibilities. Every day we work closely with public and private sector stakeholders in the aviation, rail, mass transit, highway, and pipeline sectors to employ an intelligence-driven, risk-based security approach across all modes of transportation.

TSA continues to take steps to further enhance our layered approach to security through state-of-the-art technologies, better passenger identification techniques and other developments that strengthen our capabilities to keep terrorists off commercial aircraft. However, TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening. Airport security checkpoints are only one part of a multi-layered system for aviation security. Other parts, both seen and unseen by the public include intelligence gathering and analysis, explosives detection canine teams, Federal Air Marshals, and closed-circuit television monitoring. With the tools that exist today, if we can confirm a person’s identity and learn more about them through information they voluntarily provide, and combine that information with our other layers of security, we can expedite the physical screening for many people.

We continue to make steady progress in transforming TSA into a high-performing counterterrorism agency. TSA is dedicated to preventing terrorist attacks, reducing the vulnerability of the Nation’s transportation system to terrorism, and improving the experience of the 1.8 million air passengers who travel each day. We remain committed to providing the most effective security in the most efficient manner.

Risk-Based Security Initiatives

TSA has made a fundamental shift from a “one-size-fits-all” method of screening in favor of procedures based on managing or mitigating risk. We have introduced and expanded several risk-based security programs, reflecting decisions we have made based upon on the best available intelligence and managing risk with reasonable and effective security measures. We have found strong support for our initiatives among passengers, the airline and travel industry, business and community leaders across the country, and industry and global security partners abroad. I am grateful for the expressions of support from Members of Congress and this committee.

Numerous risk-based changes have already gone into effect nationwide, including expedited screening procedures for children 12 and younger and adults 75 and older, as well as carrying out the requirements of uniformed member of the armed forces, pursuant to the “Risk-Based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act” (Pub. L. No. 112-86) enacted January 3, 2012. Other changes have been implemented at specific locations, such as expedited screening for airline pilots and flight attendants at 28 of the Nation’s busiest airports, as well as for those military personnel holding valid identification at seven airports.

One of the most visible components of risk-based security is our TSA Pre✓™ initiative. TSA Pre✓™ enables us to focus efforts on passengers who are more likely to pose a higher risk to our transportation network, while providing expedited screening and a better travel experience for those low-risk passengers that TSA knows the most about. The TSA Pre✓™ initiative currently includes U.S. citizens who are members of existing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler programs including Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI; Canadian citizens who are enrolled in the NEXUS program; and eligible airline frequent flyers traveling domestically. Certain other known and trusted populations, such as federal judges, members of the Intelligence Community, and members of the Armed Forces are also eligible for TSA Pre✓™. We are continuing to evaluate other populations and develop solutions to expand these populations and add new ones. In January, I signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the National Sheriffs Association to extend TSA Pre✓™ eligibility to these law enforcement groups. Since its initial rollout in October 2011, TSA Pre✓™ has been made available at 35 airports. Last week I announced the addition of Austin, Cleveland, Memphis, Nashville, and Raleigh-Durham, which will all begin offering TSA Pre✓™ by the end of March, and we continue to evaluate other airports to include in the program. Nearly seven million low-risk passengers have been screened with TSA Pre✓™ expedited procedures. TSA has received positive feedback from passengers who have opted into TSA Pre✓™ and experienced the associated expedited security screening, and we expect participation in this trusted-traveler initiative will continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the opportunity to join. We conduct extensive outreach efforts, including proactive press events in every local media market when TSA Pre✓™ is coming to a nearby airport. We also support and encourage enrollment through our website and are supported in this outreach by CBP with links on their website and the concurrent enrollment of Global Entry members.

We are also working with the Department of Defense to improve our service members’ travel experience by including military personnel in TSA Pre✓™. TSA has long provided expedited screening for members of our military. At airport checkpoints nationwide, U.S. service personnel in uniform with proper identification, whether traveling on official orders or not, are not required to remove their shoes or boots unless they alarm our technology. Other screening courtesies that we extend to U.S. military personnel traveling in uniform significantly reduce the likelihood that they will receive a pat down or other additional screening. In addition, family members may obtain gate passes to accompany departing troops or meet their loved ones when they come home. TSA also expedites screening for honor flight veterans, and partners with the DoD to expedite screening of wounded warriors.

Active duty military members currently receive TSA Pre✓™ benefits at seven airports and, in March 2013, we are adding two additional airports, the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, for military TSA Pre✓™ screening, and we continue work with the Defense Department to implement a broader solution this summer that will expand military members’ access to every TSA Pre✓™ participating airport. These initiatives are all part of our effort to apply new intelligence-driven, risk-based screening procedures and to enhance our use of technology to deliver the most effective security in the most efficient manner.

I have established an aggressive target that by the end of calendar year 2013, TSA will provide expedited screening to 25 percent of the individuals currently processed through security screening. Achieving this target will mean that approximately 450,000 of the 1.8 million passengers who travel on average each day from the nation’s airports will undergo some form of expedited screening. That could mean leaving their shoes on, leaving their 3-1-1 compliant liquids in their carryon bag, and leaving on their light outer jacket as they travel through the TSA Pre✓™ lane, or could mean another form of expedited screening available through our standard screening lanes such as that available for children 12 and under and adults 75 and over.

Technology in Support of Risk-Based Security

Aligning our technology and risk-based security programs is crucial in order for us to deliver the most-effective security in the most efficient way possible. TSA works in partnership with private industry to develop and deploy innovative and effective screening capabilities across the Nation’s transportation system. Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) is one example of our commitment to deploying the best available equipment to do the job. As you know, we face an adaptive adversary, and the threat remains very real. AIT safely screens passengers for metallic and nonmetallic threats including weapons, explosives, and other dangerous objects concealed under layers of clothing. Since TSA began using AIT in 2008, this technology has enabled our officers to find hundreds of prohibited, illegal, or dangerous items at checkpoints nationwide.

Our priority is to deliver the most effective security to protect the traveling public, and our objective is to do so in the most efficient way. I am convinced that security effectiveness, operational efficiency, and customer service are compatible objectives with improved passenger experience enabling the success of our security mission. TSA makes every effort to protect passenger privacy when deploying technology, including AIT. Between July and September 2011, we installed software upgrades to the majority of deployed AIT equipment to improve passenger privacy by eliminating passenger-specific images. This Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software, installed on all millimeter wave AIT units, displays the location of a detected anomaly on a generic figure, allowing for a targeted resolution procedure that is faster, more efficient, and less invasive than a more extensive pat-down, and eliminates the need for an image operator in a remotely located viewing room.

TSA has made clear to our partners in industry that all technology deployments must meet our requirements for security effectiveness, efficiency and privacy. We fully expect our vendors to deliver on their commitments, and are working with them to that end within the federal contracting process. As you know, last year Congress passed the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act (P.L. 112-95), which included a provision that required ATR software be installed on all AIT equipment including the backscatter units manufactured by Rapiscan by June 1, 2012. As Administrator, I granted a waiver to extend that deadline until May 31, 2013, for Rapiscan because it appeared that ATR certification was near. However, due to its inability to deploy non-imaging ATR software by the Congressionally-mandated deadline, TSA has terminated its contract with Rapiscan. TSA has made clear that it intends to only purchase AIT units equipped with ATR software that provide enhanced privacy protections for travelers and has been working with industry to develop effective ATR solutions that meet defined detection and suitability requirements to provide the best technological solution for the traveling public.

TSA is committed to the use of AIT and is testing next generation AIT units, including both backscatter and millimeter wave units equipped with ATR, from several vendors. TSA will begin the assessment of these next-generation AIT units in the near future. As we have reported previously, the AIT technology deployed by TSA meets all applicable national health and safety standards, and we are pressing forward with the additional independent evaluation of backscatter health effects that I committed to conducting a year ago. In addition, we are adjusting overall AIT deployment plans to align with our risk-based security programs and expedited screening goals and to make more efficient use of equipment that is under-utilized. It is important to note that other security layers are in place in locations where there is no AIT equipment installed.

The TSA Workforce

The TSA workforce operates on the front line executing the agency’s transportation security responsibilities in support of our Nation’s counterterrorism efforts. Excluding the number of Federal Air Marshals, TSA has a workforce of nearly 56,000 full-time equivalent employees. Our employees work domestically and internationally every day to ensure the security of our Nation’s transportation systems and to keep the traveling public safe from acts of terrorism. In addition, dedicated members of TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service deploy internationally and domestically to deter and defeat hostile acts targeting aircraft in flight.

Domestically, Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs) inspect regulated entities for compliance with security programs and directives. While TSA's aviation security standards provide a foundation for a comprehensive national aviation security program, the unique footprint, location, and requirements of each airport require each facility to have its own airport security program. Inspectors also work collaboratively with transportation stakeholders to assess security measures, develop mitigating actions, and identify and institute best security practices at airports, cargo facilities, and surface transportation operations. Several hundred TSIs are also trained as explosives detection canine handlers, are assigned at airports around the country, and are used for passenger and cargo screening and as a deterrent in various transportation venues. TSA’s intelligence specialists and Field Intelligence Officers work with members of the national intelligence community and with local stakeholders to analyze and operationalize intelligence with potential impact on transportation security. Additionally, TSA representatives and inspectors are assigned in nearly 30 countries to focus on regulatory compliance and security measures at approximately 270 last point of departure locations to the United States, and to raise global standards for transportation security that help extend our security boundary beyond our borders.

Our most visible responsibilities involve aviation security and include security screening of passengers and baggage at approximately 450 airports in the United States that facilitate air travel for an average of 1.8 million people per day. In addition to these more visible security functions, TSA conducts vetting against the terrorist watch list for more than 14 million passenger reservations weekly and more than 13 million transportation workers daily, and conducts security regulation compliance inspections and enforcement activities at airports and at off-airport air cargo handling and screening facilities throughout the United States. While security regulations and policy, along with effective security technology, are important tools in meeting our mission responsibilities, our people are the critical component in protecting our travelers and securing the Nation’s transportation systems. TSA employs a diverse workforce reflective of the communities employees live in and the traveling public they serve. It is noteworthy that approximately one-quarter of our employees have previously served our Nation honorably in military uniform and have chosen to continue their service to America at TSA; many of them continue to serve in the National Guard and military reserves. Our commitment to recruiting and hiring veterans continues, and we continue to work closely with key stakeholders toward that end.

We have a highly adaptive workforce that has evolved over the past 11 years since TSA’s creation. Through technological and procedural staffing efficiencies gained over the span of TSA’s history, we have been able to reduce the Transportation Security Officer full-time equivalents (FTEs) devoted to traditional passenger and baggage screening by more than 7,250 FTEs or 16 percent. Over the same period, we allocated more than 6,700 FTEs to additional security layers that did not exist during TSA’s initial years, such as Travel Document Checkers (TDCs), Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), and explosives experts. These initiatives closed vulnerabilities, addressed threats, and made us more efficient in how we conduct screening operations. Our risk-based programs are accelerating the continued evolution of our workforce, and we are investing in training and educating our workforce to improve the professionalism and to showcase the hard work and integrity the overwhelming majority of our people display every day.

TSA continues to improve customer service at airports around the Nation, and the Passenger Support Program is our most recent initiative. This program establishes a group of our own officers to serve as Passenger Support Specialists (PSSs) at airports. They provide “real time” support to individuals who may require additional assistance through the checkpoint screening process. These individuals may include passengers with clothing and medical equipment questions, or those who may require additional information regarding our checkpoint procedures. TSA started training PSSs at airports nationwide in January; to date, more than 3,000 officers have volunteered for the program, and nearly 2,500 have completed the training. The initial results of the program have been very positive, and we look to expand on this program so that more of our current officers nationwide achieve the collateral duty PSS certification.

In 2012, TSA launched “TSA Cares,” a new helpline number designed to assist travelers with disabilities and medical conditions prior to getting to the airport. Travelers may call the TSA Cares toll free number with questions about screening policies and procedures as well as what to expect at the security checkpoint. When a passenger with a disability or medical condition calls TSA Cares, a representative will provide assistance either with information about screening that is relevant to the passenger’s specific disability or medical condition or the passenger may be referred to disability experts at TSA.

In addition to executing our core security mission, our workforce continually rises to meet challenges of significant magnitude with fortitude and professionalism. As we mature as an agency, we are able to deploy assets in a surge capacity in response to, or in support of, significant national events allowing TSA to provide critical short-term assistance across the Nation. Three recent examples were our response to Superstorm Sandy this past October, support for the recent presidential inauguration, and support for the Super Bowl. In the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, we deployed more than 280 officers and support staff from around the Nation to reopen affected airports in New York and New Jersey, and to ensure security was maintained at these airports once they reopened. TSA also supplied more than 750 personnel in support of DHS surge operations providing direct support to FEMA’s disaster response efforts. TSA personnel responded quickly to the call for assistance, and they remained in the affected area for almost 45 days assisting residents.

For the presidential inauguration last month, which was a National Special Security Event, TSA assisted the United States Secret Service by providing 675 of our officers to complete security screening at checkpoints stationed around the District of Columbia. Most recently, we deployed an additional 114 of our officers to Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana, to assist with security screening for the large influx of visitors departing after the Super Bowl. With more than 38,000 passengers screened that day, this volume represented the single busiest travel day in New Orleans’ airport history, and the ability of TSA to surge additional resources and capabilities to assist the permanent staff prevented excessive wait times to clear through security.

Passenger Screening Canine Program

The TSA National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program has played an integral role in protecting the Nation’s transportation systems since 1972, when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first started the program. TSA assumed program responsibilities from FAA in 2002 following the creation of TSA in response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The explosives detection canine program remains a vital component of our layered approach to transportation security today as new security threats are recognized across all transportation sectors.

During 2011, TSA expanded the program by deploying Passenger Screening Canine (PSC) teams. These teams are composed of a Transportation Security Inspector and a canine trained to detect explosives carried or worn by a person. The teams now operate at 24 airports across the country, working to detect explosive odors at checkpoints and in both the sterile and public areas of airports. TSA is currently funded to field 120 PSC teams, and the agency plans on deploying the full allotment of teams by the end of calendar year 2013. These teams will provide coverage at up to 30 airports, utilizing risk-based security methodologies to deploy the new PSC teams to high-priority airports. Although PSC teams were initially deployed to the sterile side of the airports, in 2012 PSC operations expanded to include the checkpoint on the public side of airports.

Additionally, PSC assets now provide support to TSA’s Managed Inclusion pilot programs at Indianapolis International Airport, Tampa International Airport, and Honolulu International Airport. The Managed Inclusion concept provides TSA with a real-time threat assessment capability at a checkpoint and enables TSA to improve security, operational efficiency, and the passenger experience. The passenger experience is enhanced and streamlined by allowing TSA to easily and quickly identify passengers as low risk and direct them for expedited screening through TSA Pre✓™ lanes. During Managed Inclusion operations, the Passenger Screening Canine teams are located in front of the screening checkpoint, and all individuals approaching the checkpoint are screened for explosives by these teams. These individuals are also assessed for suspicious behaviors by Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs). If the canine team does not alert on an individual and a BDO does not observe suspicious behavioral indicators, the individual may be eligible for expedited screening through the TSA Pre✓™ lanes.

Surface Transportation

The approach TSA takes in securing the non-aviation transportation systems involves a significantly smaller investment of TSA personnel with more direct responsibility placed on the owners and operators of these systems. This difference reflects the fact that these systems are more open with greater ease of access and are more broadly distributed. As an example, the New York City subway system alone services more than 5 million riders each day through more stations than TSA has security responsibility for in the commercial aviation domain. Within the mass transit and passenger rail domains, TSA engages with state and local partners to identify ways to reduce vulnerabilities, assess risk, and improve security efforts through collaborative risk assessments and by conducting baseline security assessments. These assessments are conducted with emphasis on the 100 largest mass transit and passenger railroad systems measured by passenger volume, which account for over 80 percent of all users of public transportation.

Since 2007, TSA has completed 92 transportation security exercises with various transportation modes under the Intermodal Security Training and Exercise Program (I-STEP) in collaboration with security partners in industry, state, and local organizations. These exercises are designed to continuously improve the risk posture of transportation systems serving the Nation. To date, I-STEP has produced and shared more than 390 multimodal security best practices and lessons learned with security partners, and has hosted more than 3,345 participants at transportation security exercises focused on enhancing security preparedness of the Nation’s mass transit, freight rail, highway, and pipeline sectors.

Through its First Observer program, TSA has begun to develop and implement centralized training through a Web-based model. This program, originally focused on the highways and motor carrier modes, has been expanded to encompass all surface modes of transportation. The transition to a centralized and streamlined training development and delivery process and move from classroom-based to a Web-based training model allows cost savings, economies of scale, and an ability to reach a wider audience. It is anticipated that security improvements will also be realized through a national security training vehicle that can be modified almost immediately to address emerging threats and mitigation measures.

Between FY 2006 and FY 2012, approximately $1.8 billion in Transit Security Grant Program funding has been awarded to transit owners and operators and their dedicated law enforcement providers to enhance security through operational activities—such as counterterrorism teams, mobile screening teams, explosives detection canine teams, training, drills/exercises, and public awareness—and increase mitigation of terrorism risk through site hardening, equipment purchases, and other capital security improvements.

TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams augment local transit and passenger rail security forces daily in high-risk areas throughout the country and add an additional layer of security at airports. VIPR operations allow TSA to respond with other federal, state, local, tribal and territorial resources and to execute response and recovery capabilities. In FY 2012, the VIPR program conducted 12,845 operations, including 8,868 in surface modes and 3,977 in aviation. Additionally, during the first quarter of FY 2013, the VIPR program conducted 3,574 operations, including 2,343 in surface modes and 1,231 operations in aviation.

Global Engagement

TSA’s efforts to secure the Nation’s transportation networks extend beyond our borders. TSA has a globally deployed outreach and engagement workforce that includes TSA Representatives who coordinate closely with foreign government counterparts and International Industry Representatives who serve as direct liaisons to regulated foreign airlines. Through their interactions, TSA is able to coordinate with the entities affected by our security decisions while promoting international security and commerce. TSA has seven Regional Operations Centers whose mission is to deploy Transportation Security Specialists to conduct Air Carrier Inspections on all carriers flying into the United States, and conduct airport assessments at all last points of departure from non-U.S. locations.

One area of particular focus for TSA in the international arena has been increasing the security of air cargo without restricting the movement of goods and products. Since December 3, 2012, TSA has required 100 percent screening of all international cargo on passenger aircraft bound for the United States. In advance of this accomplishment, TSA, as of August 3, 2010, met the statutory mandate of 100 percent screening of all air cargo transported on passenger aircraft departing an airport in the United States. TSA’s risk-based approach to security is built into cargo screening with the determination of appropriate screening protocols.

Over the past four years, TSA has worked with partners around the world to recognize National Cargo Security Programs that further strengthen international air cargo arena security regimes. This effort allows operators to accept cargo screened and secured throughout the supply chain, decreases the re-screening requirements at last point of departure airports, limits backlogs, and facilitates commerce. As of December 2012, TSA has recognized 33 programs, which account for 60 percent of inbound cargo.

In December 2012, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the “No-Hassle Flying Act (P.L. 112-218),” which grants TSA the authority to waive checked baggage rescreening requirements for flights from international preclearance airports that install U.S. comparable checked baggage screening processes and equipment. The discretion this Act provides is consistent with TSA’s ongoing transition to a more risk-based and intelligence-driven counterterrorism posture, and we anticipate that it will assist us in our efforts to improve the traveling experience. TSA evaluates applicable security screening measures at 14 foreign preclearance airports to ensure comparability with TSA screening standards. Currently, preclearance airports are located in Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, and Ireland.

Management under Continuing Resolution

We appreciate the committee’s efforts to consider and enact the President’s 2013 Budget Request during this challenging fiscal climate. Operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) can present operational challenges because an extension of prior-year appropriations generally does not reflect developing budget requirements. For example, TSA is undertaking a modernization of its credentialing technology platform to address operational deficiencies and to permit a more equitable application of fees to the users of the TSA credentialing programs. Under a CR, this effort would be underfunded by $30 million, delaying the project by another 6 months. As you are aware, in response to ongoing concerns of the stakeholder community, Congress passed a requirement last December for TSA to create a one-stop enrollment process for prospective and renewing Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) cardholders. To accomplish this expeditiously and leverage ongoing efforts, TSA is using the development of the new credentialing platform to make the necessary system updates. A delay in funding for TSA Threat Assessment and Credentialing Infrastructure Modernization program development also will delay development and deployment of the changes to the TWIC program by a similar amount.


Our Nation’s transportation systems continue to face evolving threats. To achieve its mission, TSA will continue to effectively implement an intelligence driven and risk-based security system across all transportation modes while increasing the level of engagement with our workforce to shape them for success and drive operational and management efficiencies across the organization. TSA strives to achieve these goals as it continues to protect the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. We appreciate your continued support as we strive to ensure that our workforce is well-prepared and given the proper tools to meet the challenges of securing our aviation transportation system. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I look forward to answering your questions.

Last Updated: 03/10/2022
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