AIN Blog: Is the TSA Learning From Past Mistakes?

 - January 2, 2012, 9:27 AM

The Transportation Security Administration may finally be getting it. In November, the agency announced it is resuscitating the long-dormant Aviation Security Advisory Committee (Asac) and the Obama Administration said that the business aviation community will continue to have a seat at the table.

The Asac evolved from the original civil aviation security committee formed in the aftermath of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Today, in addition to its consulting role on determining new policy, the group also gauges feedback from aviation businesses and organizations on the effectiveness of existing TSA practices, and recommends improvements where necessary.

The TSA has acknowledged that business aircraft operators—including NBAA’s Security Council—helped the agency recraft the contentious Large Aircraft Security Program (Lasp). TSA deputy assistant administrator Doug Hofsass told attendees at NBAA’s convention this fall that the agency is now focusing on risk mitigation rather than risk elimination.

The November 7 notice from the TSA stated that NBAA is among 24 other industry stakeholder groups to be named to the security committee. NBAA had been a member of Asac during past presidential administrations.

TSA Administrator John Pistole has noted the “vital role” the Asac plays in balancing real-world security concerns with workable implementation of policy proposals. “I look forward to working with these key security and industry leaders as we continue evolving into a high-performance, world-class counterterrorism organization that focuses on risk-based, intelligence-driven, layered security,” he said.

The TSA previously told NBAA that it hoped to issue a new proposed business aircraft security program by the end of the year. When it finally emerges from administrative review, it is expected to be markedly different from the Lasp that generated thousands of negative comments and much outrage when it was unveiled in the fall of 2008.

In what Government Security News called the first full meeting of the committee since September 2009, the resurrected Asac held a conference call on December 15 to hear Pistole extol the virtues of “risk-based screening” and to take some of the administrative steps necessary to choosing the panel’s new chairperson and vice chairperson, who will come from outside the TSA.

According to the magazine, Dean Walter, the designated federal officer who provides support for Asac, explained that the TSA wants the panel’s members to nominate their own chairperson and vice chairperson, who would then be approved or disapproved by Pistole. In the past, the advisory group has always been headed by a federal official, said Walter, but this time around the TSA “wants to empower the members of Asac.”

During the conference call, Hofsass recommended that the advisory group continue the existence of two of its former subcommittees (air cargo and general aviation); cancel one former subcommittee on airport security design because its work was completed; and set up a new subcommittee on international security matters.

Maybe the TSA has finally gotten the message.