Blue Ribbon Panel Executive Summary
Each day in the United States, roughly two million air travelers are advised to arrive upwards of two hours before a flight in order to be processed through a one-size-fits-all security screening system. Each traveler must present their identification for verification, take off any coats, remove their shoes, pull out their cell phone, unpack their laptop, unhook their belt, unsnap their watch, place their liquids in a clear plastic bag, and place all of their personal effects on a conveyer belt. Then, every man, woman and child goes barefoot through a screening device and then tries to reassemble their belongings before the crush of passengers further backs up the screening line.
Has the system worked? By one measure - yes. There have been no successful terrorist attacks against an American aircraft since the horrible events of September 11, 2001. If terrorist attacks are the only form of judgment, the post-9/11 security screening system has succeeded to date. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), its Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the American public with its new "take charge" attitude all deserve credit and our appreciation.
Is today's security screening system the most cost effective and efficient that the United States can possibly produce? No. The country that put a man on the moon, invented the Internet and creates daily innovations in manufacturing can and must do better.
Staggering Economic Consequences of the Current Security System
The current aviation security system is discouraging Americans from flying and contributing to a decline in productivity among those who choose to fly. According to a 2010 survey conducted by Consensus Research, American travelers would take an additional two to three flights per year if the hassles in security screening system were eliminated. These additional flights would add nearly $85 billion in consumer spending and 900,000 jobs to the American economy.1
According to the same research, a large majority of Americans consider today's security screening system to be "inconsistent," "stressful" and "embarrassing." The President of the United States acknowledged the challenges with today's system when he joked in the 2011 State of the Union address that we should support high-speed rail as an alternative to flying because, "it will be faster than flying - without the pat-down." 2
In 1999, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the landmark case Saenz vs. Roe that the Constitution protects the right to travel freely within the United States and to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than a hostile stranger.3 In 1958, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, in holding that the federal government could not restrict the right to travel without due process, wrote:
“Freedom of movement across frontiers in either direction, and inside frontiers as well, was a part of our heritage. Travel abroad, like travel within the country . . . may be as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads. Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values.”4
These powerful words, combined with the clear consequences of today's security screening system, highlight the need for more efficiency and cost effectiveness. Aviation security is about much more than providing for the safety of the traveling public – it is about protecting the American way of life.
When combining the staggering economic consequences of the current system with the widely held views of the traveling public – and with the American way of life hanging in the balance – the picture becomes clear: we can, and must, build a new traveler-focused system for aviation security.
A Better System Eliminates One-Size-Fits-All Approach
A better aviation security screening system must feature several characteristics, including:
Effective methods of deterring and interdicting terrorist and criminal actors;
Tailored security based upon risk assessment;
Predictability for the traveling public; and
Reasonable efficiency and cost-effective use of resources.
Building such a system will require the active participation of, and possible sacrifices by:
The broader travel industry;
The traveling public;
Federal agencies; and
Congress Must Lead the Way to Better Aviation Security
In November 2010, new enhanced “pat down” techniques and advanced “full-body scanning” equipment sparked a media frenzy over aviation security. A renewed public debate took place over the role of privacy in aviation security, and many in Congress and the media openly questioned if TSA had gone too far.
This outcry was an example of the wild swings in media coverage and public policy that, over the past 10 years, have characterized the debate over aviation security.
The “whipsaw” nature of security policy is best demonstrated by two recent Congressional actions. In June 2009, the House of Representatives rejected whole-body imaging machines as a primary means of screening travelers by a vote of 310-118. Just six months later, Congress abruptly accelerated and expanded the deployment of whole-body imaging machines for primary screening.5 What changed? The unsuccessful attempt to destroy a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas Day.
Dramatic policy shifts undermine the ability of our nation to create a secure and efficient aviation system, and demonstrate a lack of a long-term vision for aviation security. Furthermore, TSA and its Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) often bear unjustified public criticism for simply carrying out the ever-changing policies set by Congress and the Administration.
If this pattern is to change, Congress must set the tone and take on the responsibility of improving the current system. As the elected representatives of the American people, charged with providing a check and a balance on the Executive Branch, Congress that must take the lead to coalesce all stakeholders in aviation security to enact meaningful reforms.
Some in Congress appear to have calculated that there are no political consequences to an inefficient and costly system, but great political consequences to a successful terrorist attack. This is a classic Hobson's Choice that the American traveling public repudiates. The debate Congress must engage in is not strong security versus weak security, but rather how to create a world-class aviation security system that effectively manages risk, increases efficiency and embraces the freedom to travel.
The Blue Ribbon Panel: Expertise and the First Step toward Reform
In an effort to spark a productive dialogue and begin the process of reform, the U.S. Travel Association brought together a Blue Ribbon Panel for Aviation Security. The panel consisted of former top officials from DHS and TSA; representatives from the airline, airport, logistics and security technology sectors; and leaders who represent the destinations and other businesses reliant on a functional air travel system.
The Panel was asked to: 1) think beyond today’s security process; 2) understand the dual need for security and efficiency; and 3) keep the interests of travelers in mind, including reasonable privacy and efficiency concerns.
The Panel was led by three co-chairs:
The Honorable Tom Ridge, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, currently CEO of Ridge Global;
The Honorable Jim Turner, former Ranking Democratic Member of the House Homeland Security Committee, currently Partner at Arnold & Porter; and
Mr. Sam Gilliland, Chairman and CEO of Sabre Holdings
The strength of the Blue Ribbon Panel was rooted in the diverse professional and political viewpoints of the panelists. And, as with any difficult issue, this diversity did not always lead to consensus. Throughout the report, panel member support for specific recommendations is noted by the blue dialogue boxes. The panel co-chairs, in particular, provided numerous hours of their time to discuss, deliberate and develop many of the recommendations below. In addition, listed on page 30 are the participating panel members that, while not supporting any specific recommendations, graciously devoted their time, energy and expertise to thoroughly debating ways to improve aviation security. However, while the report has benefited from the input of each panelist, the recommendations below are those of the U.S. Travel Association
Garnering the Voice of the Traveler
An important but often overlooked voice in the security process is that of the traveler. To remedy this omission, the U.S. Travel Association canvassed travelers for insights on how to improve the system through opinion surveys and a new website, YourTravelVoice.org, which gathered approximately 3,000 recommendations, some of which are reflected in the this report.
1 Consensus Research Group, Inc., “A Study of Air Traveler Perceptions of Aviation Security Screening Procedures”, December 15, 2010, www.ustravel.org/news/press-releases/american-traveling-public-says-there-has-be-better-way-conduct-air-travel-secu
2 “Remarks by the President in State of Union Address”, January 25, 2011, www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2011
5 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Secretary Napolitano Outlines Five Recommendations To Enhance Aviation Security”, January 7, 2010, www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1262907427865.shtm