What does a Trump administration and a new Congress mean for aviation security?
That is a question for many in the aviation industry. Fortunately we were able to put that question and others to Dale Snape, an expert in U.S. aviation security policy, politics and legislation.
Dale is vice chairman at consulting firm Wexler | Walker where he has been working for 35 years since leaving teh White House Office of management and Budget. He has overseen the firm's activities in the U.S. aviation area, including security, budgets, and legislation
DeteCT: Let’s cut to the chase. How will Donald Trump’s administration impact U.S. aviation security?
DS: It’s a difficult question because the incoming administration has not commented on policy proposals regarding aviation security and the Transportation Security Administration. It simply was not a topic discussed on the campaign trail. President Trump’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), General John Kelly, also did not comment specifically on aviation security as part of his confirmation process. With this as a backdrop, I think it will be critically important as to who is the next TSA administrator and what his or her views and background are on aviation security issues.
DeteCT: So we have to wait for specifics. What about general priorities? Trump is obviously not afraid to make big changes. How do you think that approach will affect TSA?
DS: As with most changes in administrations, I think the incoming Trump Administration is going to be reviewing a number of initiatives and programs at TSA and determining if assumptions and policies made in the past are still valid and operative. The areas that are likely to receive immediate attention are TSA’s expedited travel program, Pre Check, and the Screening Partnership Program (SPP), which is designed to allow airports and airlines to opt out of federal screening and instead use private screeners. To be sure, TSA is the most visible component of DHS (to the American public) so any changes are likely to receive ample attention and oversight.
DeteCT: Can you give us an example?
DS: Yes – one challenge at TSA is how to increase security at the checkpoint while at the same time ensuring the passenger experience improves. Doing this with the increasing demand of airline passengers on the system is substantial. I’m hopeful that the incoming administration will look to innovation, technology, and automation to make needed improvement at the checkpoint. Getting the right mix of TSA officers is important, but it shouldn’t be the long-term solution for TSA’s checkpoint challenges. Using CT (computed tomography) technology at the checkpoint, for example, is something I expect the new administration to look at seriously because it can improve security and the passenger experience and save taxpayer money in the long run.
DeteCT: What about the new Congress and TSA’s budget? For those of us who don’t know what a “continuing resolution” is, can you explain what is going on and how that impacts TSA operations?
DS: It’s a great question because TSA can only operate within the resource bounds and direction provided by Congress. Today, TSA—along with all other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security—is operating a “continuing resolution,” or CR. As the name implies, this allows TSA to continue its basic, most critical operations at the same funding level for fiscal year 2017 as in prior years. Generally speaking, a CR ties the hands of the TSA and has the potential to slow down a number of proposed actions.
DeteCT: But what if TSA wants to fund a new security initiative at airports? We’ve talked about the need for improved technology at the security checkpoints.
DS: Many people who follow this issue closely, both within TSA and in Congress, realize the importance of upgrading security technology. But TSA has to operate within the constraints imposed by Congress. The CR only funds existing programs and doesn’t allow TSA any new program starts. Once Congress passes a long-term funding bill for fiscal 2017 and considers President Trump’s FY 18 budget request, which we expect in the next few months, TSA will have more flexibility to move forward with new technology initiatives.
DeteCT: Well, on that hopeful note, thanks so much for your insight. Happy New Year!