Unfortunately, incidents like the one that occurred earlier this week at JFK are not a terribly rare occurrence. The vast majority of these types of breaches are relatively harmless but they do reveal a gap in the system: people. As long as there are people in the system, there will always be a chance for error, but the same can be said for technology. It’s not a perfect system, but TSA needs to evaluate what happened here and how it’s going to get fixed.
When TSA first stood up any incident like this immediately resulted in the evacuation of the affected concourse and a complete search to look for the people or any items they may have left behind. Then everyone lined up to get re-screened. It stopped airport operations and flight operations completely, and affected the entire airspace system. Now, there’s at least a vetting process where the incident is reviewed by personnel using CCTV and a risk assessment is made. If it looks like a few people who were either confused or just were tired of hanging around waiting for someone to show up, then that’s less of a risk than if people were actively trying to circumvent or game the system.
This obviously needs to be addressed but I think the higher level issue is this: How long is TSA going to once again remain leaderless before another Administrator is appointed. The last time TSA was left leaderless for too long the DHS Inspector General discovered a 97-percent failure rate for TSA screeners when tested by red team personnel, and that several employees were on terrorist watch lists. Neffenger was tracking well and it’s too bad he wasn’t retained. Although there are acting personnel in his stead right now, “acting” doesn’t always mean the person can affect real change simply because they don’t have the authority. We can only hope that it doesn’t take a successful attack on aviation to get the next TSA leader appointed.
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