If you’re a regular business traveler, the government agency with which you likely have the most face-to-face contact is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Since the agency’s inception in 2001, TSA has been tasked with a difficult but critical job: protecting our country’s transportation systems while processing travelers as efficiently as possible.
However, as evidenced by the long waits and other frustrations flyers encounter at airport security, budgetary and political turmoil have made TSA’s mission far more challenging in recent years. To many frequent travelers, it may seem as though the current state of affairs is here to stay—but both TSA and Congress have the capacity to change your airport screening experience for the better right away.
My organization, the U.S. Travel Association, released a new report today offering achievable steps both TSA and lawmakers can take to evolve and streamline the aviation security experience. Here are three of the top solutions we’ve put forward:
Stop spending TSA fees on unrelated programs
A 2013 congressional budget compromise bumped the fee for TSA operations from $2.50 per flight leg to $5.60, but the increase was actually slated to cover shortfalls elsewhere in the federal budget; no improvements or expansions of TSA operations were implemented. Under current law, more than one-third of collected airline passenger fees are diverted from the TSA to the General Fund until FY 2025. This means that last year, travelers effectively paid an extra $1.6 billion in fees without seeing any return in the form of better screening. Rather than require travelers to pay for aspects of government completely unrelated to TSA’s mission, Congress should reverse this diversion and allow TSA fees to exclusively fund aviation security improvements.
Expand TSA PreCheck
It’s no secret that I am a fan of TSA PreCheck, but I do believe that TSA can do more to lower price and application barriers, and get more qualified people enrolled. I like to say that TSA should focus on “Four Ps” when thinking of ways to expand TSA PreCheck: prioritization, promotion, price and process.
By the first two Ps, we mean that expanding PreCheck should be a national priority, and the federal government should aggressively promote this excellent program.
Price-wise: at $85 for five years, TSA PreCheck is a fairly cost-effective option for an individual—but it’s prohibitive for some families with children or many companies that would like to cover enrollment for their employees. Fee reductions for children, volume discounts and a subscription model for fees could get large numbers of eligible travelers enrolled.
On the “process” front: a U.S. Travel study found that one in five travelers that were hesitant to enroll in TSA PreCheck were deterred by a complicated application process. That process should be streamlined to require only one form of identification—like a state-issued, REAL ID–compliant driver’s license.
Steps like these could help the TSA meet its goal of enrolling 25 million travelers in PreCheck by 2019. The more people enroll, the faster and more securely TSA can process all travelers, not just those in PreCheck.
Modernize TSA’s staffing tools
Think events like last summer’s “Queuemageddon” are inevitable? Not at all. One of the reasons TSA wait times soared up to three hours was a large-scale failure to deploy TSA staff according to airport traffic and peak travel times. Anyone who runs a business or other large organization would be aghast at such management practices—especially since staffing tools exist that could have prevented this confusion. TSA should prioritize customer service through the use of world-class, readily available staffing management resources that would help assess staffing needs and swiftly determine where to send them.
Streamlining the TSA is crucial not only to the traveler experience and national security, but also to the U.S. economy: When our aviation security system is bogged down by dysfunction or excessive wait times, travel declines—threatening the jobs of one in nine Americans.
The good news? U.S. Travel research has found that reducing TSA hassles without compromising security would encourage more travel and add 888,000 more jobs to our economy.
Armed with these recommendations and more, we aim to show new lawmakers entering Washington next year exactly how they can make good on their campaign trail promises to create jobs by improving TSA and air travel.
It is my sincere hope that you’ll begin to see the fruits of some of these changes not too long after the new Congress and administration begin their work in 2017.