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  4. Written testimony of TSA Administrator John Pistole for a House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security hearings titled “TSA’s Efforts to Advance Risk-Based Security”

Written testimony of TSA Administrator John Pistole for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Transportation Security hearings titled “TSA’s Efforts to Advance Risk-Based Security”

Release Date: March 14, 2013

311 Cannon House Office Building

Good morning Chairman Hudson, Ranking Member Richmond, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) on-going efforts to expand and improve our risk-based, intelligence-driven operations.

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, freight rail, mass transit and passenger rail, 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. TSA will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, however, 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 include information gathering and analysis, passenger prescreening through Secure Flight, 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 assess through information they voluntarily provide, and combine that information with our other layers of security, we can expedite the physical screening process 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 systems to terrorism, and improving the experience of the nearly 1.8 million air passengers who fly each day in the U.S. We remain committed to providing the most-effective security in the most efficient manner.

Risk-Based Security Initiatives

About 18 months ago, TSA began to make a fundamental shift from a “one-size-fits-all” method of screening in favor of procedures designed to manage, or mitigate, risk. We introduced and expanded several risk-based security initiatives, reflecting decisions I made based upon the best available information and intelligence, managing risk with reasonable and effective security measures. We found strong support for our initiatives among passengers, the airline and travel industries, 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 under and adults 75 and older, for airline pilots and flight attendants at 28 of the nation’s busiest airports, and for active duty military personnel holding valid military identification at eight airports. We continue to work with the Department of Defense to implement a broader solution this summer that will expand military members’ access to every TSA Pre✓™ participating airport, which will expedite the security screening process for these individuals, while continuing to allow our Transportation Security Officers to fulfill their mission. These initiatives have significantly reduced pat-down screenings and allow our Transportation Security Officers to fulfill their mission while improving the travel experience for these individuals.

Expedited Screening

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 carry-on bags, and leaving on their light outer jacket as they travel through the TSA Pre✓™ lane. It could also mean another form of expedited screening available through our standard screening lanes such as that available for children ages 12 and under and adults ages 75 and over.

TSA Pre✓™

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 may pose a higher risk to our transportation network, while providing expedited screening and a better travel experience for those low-risk passengers that have voluntarily provided information about themselves. The TSA Pre✓™ initiative currently includes U.S. citizens who are members of existing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler initiatives including Global Entry, NEXUS, and SENTRI; Canadian citizens who are enrolled in the NEXUS program; and eligible U.S. citizen airline frequent flyers traveling domestically. Certain other populations about whom we know more information, such as federal judges, 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. Nearly seven million low-risk passengers have been screened with the expedited procedures of TSA Pre✓™. TSA has received positive feedback from passengers who have opted into TSA Pre✓™ and we expect participation in this risk-based screening initiative will continue to grow as more and more people become aware of the opportunity. Last month, 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.

Passenger Screening Canines

The 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 first started the program. The 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 Canines (PSC) teams. These teams are comprised 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 explosives 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 an airport.

Additionally, PSC teams now provide support to TSA’s Managed Inclusion pilot initiatives at Indianapolis, Tampa, and Honolulu International Airports. The Managed Inclusion concept provides TSA with real time threat assessment capability at a checkpoint and enables TSA to improve security, operational efficiency and the passenger experience. By assessing passengers in the screening queue, passengers deemed lower risk are able to undergo expedited screening procedures. During Managed Inclusion operations, the PSC teams are located at the screening checkpoint and all individuals approaching the checkpoint are screened for explosives by these teams. These individuals are also assessed for suspicious behavioral indicators by Behavior Detection Officers (BDO). 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. These assets were also part of the surge capability deployed most recently to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to support screening the large numbers of attendees departing the city following the Super Bowl.

Improving Customer Service

TSA continues to improve customer service at airports around the Nation. Through the Passenger Support Program, we established 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.

Air Cargo

On August 3, 2007, Congress passed the “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act,” which required TSA to implement a system to ensure that 100 percent of all cargo transported on passenger aircraft is screened at a level commensurate with checked baggage. TSA and the air cargo industry met the 100 percent screening requirement for domestic uplift through implementation of the Certified Cargo Screening Program (CCSP), which enables TSA-regulated entities in the air cargo supply chain to conduct screening prior to cargo being uplifted by air carriers. This approach allows for distribution of screening responsibilities throughout the air cargo supply chain, thus avoiding screening “bottlenecks” and improving the flow of commerce. As of December 2012, the CCSP included 1,138 participant locations certified by TSA as Certified Cargo Screening Facilities, which screen over 60 percent of the cargo, with the remainder screened by air carriers.

To meet the 100 percent requirement for international inbound cargo, TSA adopted an approach that consisted of incorporating the Trusted Shipper Concept into the currently Standard Security Programs. This utilizes risk-based, tiered screening protocols based on established criteria related to the shipper’s business relationships with air carriers and international freight forwarders, as well as shipper history, shipment volume, and frequency. The Trusted Shipper Concept was originally set forth in response to an attempt by terrorists to conceal explosives in all-cargo aircraft bound for the United States from Yemen. TSA has implemented the Trusted Shipper concept for all-cargo carriers, and requires them to screen 100 percent of all non-trusted shipments to the same standards as those required for passenger carriers.

TSA continues to collaborate with CBP to enhance its ability to identify and target high-risk or “non-trusted” shipments for enhanced screening. An outcome of this collaboration has been the Air Cargo Advance Screening Pilot (ACAS), a joint TSA-CBP initiative which utilizes CBP’s Automated Targeting System (ATS) to analyze both shipper and shipment data to identify high-risk cargo that requires enhanced screening prior to loading. As of February 2013, there are 74 entities participating in the ACAS pilot, and over 64 million shipments have been successfully processed.

In addition, TSA developed the National Cargo Security Program (NCSP) as a critical component of the U.S. strategy to enhance global supply chain security and sustain 100 percent screening on international inbound cargo required by federal law. Through NCSP recognition, TSA determines if a foreign government’s air cargo security program is commensurate with current U.S. air cargo security standards introducing efficiencies for both government and private industry by reducing duplicative requirements, allowing screening to be completed earlier in the supply chain, and permitting the optimal use of distributed screening locations so that screening can occur at various nodes along the supply chain. To date, TSA has recognized the security programs of 34 partner countries which represent, when implemented, an estimated 67 percent of the inbound cargo onboard passenger aircraft.

Surface Transportation

Under Section 101 of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (Pub. L. No. 107-71) (codified at 49 U.S.C. 114) TSA has responsibility for not only aviation security, but also for surface transportation security. 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. 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.

Between FY 2006 and FY 2012, approximately $1.8 billion in Transit Security Grant Program funding was 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 campaigns. This funding allows for entities to increase mitigation of terrorism risk through site hardening, equipment purchases, and other capital security improvements.

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 foreign locations.

On December 20, 2012, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the “No-Hassle Flying Act (Pub. L. No. 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.


The Nation continues to face evolving threats to our transportation system. TSA will continue to effectively implement an information and intelligence driven, 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 all modes of transportation. 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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