TSA chief promises new vision for airport security checkpoints

The new head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has promised to unveil a new vision for airport security checkpoints in the coming months, with the goal of improving safety at the public spaces outside of screening areas.

Speaking at a Washington conference on Tuesday, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said incidents like the deadly bombing outside the Brussels airport, the fatal mass shooting at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas and a lone shooter at the Fort Lauderdale airport are all a “stark reminder” of the need for extra vigilance and tighter security in public spaces.

“In my ideal world, we don’t have hundreds of people queued up to go through security,” Pekoske said at the Airports Council International – North America conference. “That in itself is a security vulnerability.”

Pekoske, a former vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, acknowledged some of the challenges facing the agency, including the high turnover rates among TSA employees and the fact that the agency has seen seven permanent administrators in the last 16 years.

“I’m not here to be a one and done in this job. I will stay as long as I’m allowed to stay, because I think consistency is very important,” Pekoske said. “I’m looking to really make an impact on transportation security overall.”

Since stepping into the role this August, Pekoske has asked the agency to work with the airline and airport industry, technology partners and academia to start coming up with innovative ideas for the “airport security area of the future.” That could include rebuilding airports or changing screening processes, Pekoske said.

“If we get some infrastructure investment dollars to be able to change the layout at some airports or even build new terminals, can we get an airport security system that’s not a checkpoint, per say, but has security in a continuum?” Pekoske said.

“It’s going to take several months to get anywhere close to getting a mock-up in place, but you will definitely see us reach out and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re thinking,’ ” he told airport officials at the conference.

Pekoske said he is a “firm believer” in trusted traveler programs like PreCheck and Global Entry, which allow expedited screening for pre-vetted passengers. The programs not only speed up lines, but also reduce clusters of people standing in the spaces outside of screening areas, he said.

The TSA is also testing using scanners with CT technology, which can produce a three-dimensional image of a bag’s contents and are easier for screening officers to decipher.

“The need to refresh the technology at the checkpoints is critical,” Pekoske said. “I will use whatever influence I have as administrator to push that.”

Pekoske also said that the TSA is continuing efforts started by former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to raise the global baseline for aviation security.

The department rolled out new aviation security measures this summer for all international flights coming into the United States instead of imposing a laptop ban.

The new standards are being required in stages, with the first round nearly complete and the agency now focused on the next stage, Pekoske said. The final phase will focus on insider threats and putting pre-clearance in place at last points of departure airports, he added.

“Anyone who thinks the threat to aviation is steady or diminished, it’s not,” Pekoske said.