Dear Admiral Neffenger,
From one former Coastie to another, Semper Paratus, and congratulations on your appointment.
While my Coast Guard career was cut short due to a medical issue, I try to serve in other ways by spending the majority of my professional career becoming an expert in aviation security, airport operations and emergency management. As you assume one of the most unenviable positions in the federal government, I’d like to offer a few insights that may help with your success, based on my 27+ years experience in the industry and from training thousands of airport security professionals.
The top priority is to Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood. It’s Covey’s fifth habit. One of the biggest reputation problems TSA has within the industry is that all too often, no one takes the time to understand how aviation works, and why it must work. They write prescriptions before ever seeing the patient. I was very glad to see that you’re already meeting with our key industry leaders and intend to tour some airports – just be sure to hit a variety of airports, big and small, because, as they say in our industry, when you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen one airport.
Next, there is more to aviation security than just TSA, and more than just screening.
Some of your predecessors have focused on just TSA as being the only layer of security, and even the security layer graphic posted on the TSA website forgets three of the most critical elements in aviation security – airport access control, credentialing and perimeter security – effectively the back door. Even recently, when TSA attempted to address active shooter, the initial information that was pushed out pretty much addressed how TSA should respond, not the rest of the airport. Fortunately, the airport community is taking care of this itself now. TSA can go a long way to building it’s industry relationships by understanding there is an entire community out there that’s responsible for protecting the airport and the airlines.
You have hundreds of aviation security experts at your disposal, in the form of the Airport Security Coordinators that work at the commercial service airports throughout the United States. They work for the airport operator, not TSA. They have been in the industry for a lot longer than the vast majority of the TSA workforce and, most importantly, they know how to protect aviation. ASCs are not an afterthought. They are charged with protecting one of the most critical layers of the entire system – preventing the insider threat. They are also responsible for protecting the perimeter, and responding to incidents with local police officers. They are on the front lines, just as much as your TSA workforce. Give them the mission – give them your intent – let them figure out how to make it happen and they will.
The ASAC report is a great example of how things should work. More of that approach and you’ll be successful.