The airport industry is finding out what it’s like to be the Washington Generals, the perennial opponent of the Harlem Globetrotters, forever destined to play their hearts out but ultimately lose.

In the latest round, the Globetrotters (TSA), and the airport industry (the Generals) are facing off over the issue of exit lane security. TSA feels that exit lane security is an access control function and therefore the airport’s problem, whereas the airport industry sees exit lane protection as part of the screening process and therefore the TSA’s problem.

While the TSA just issued the amendment proposing that airports take over the process and is allowing comment, industry reps who have met with the TSA, plus comments made by TSA officials at the recent TSA roundtable at the AAAE Annual conference in Reno last week, have been consistent:

yes, we’ll accept your comments and then we’re going to go ahead and do this anyway.

The Message from the Globetrotters: Fight as hard as you want Generals, but you’re still going down.

TSA released the amendment on Exit Lane Staffing this week. Currently, TSA staffs exit lanes where the lanes are co-located with the screening checkpoints. That occurs at 68% of the airports with federalized screeners. The remaining airports have exit lanes physically separated from the screening checkpoint, and by what can be described as a TSA “decree,” (i.e. no amendment or security directive, but a memorandum) issued by Kip Hawley in 2008, airports already have responsibility for those exit lanes.

I have heard some commentary that this is a move by TSA to get out of the screening business. There is also speculation that this directive is coming from Olympus (i.e. The White House) as a way to handle the sequestration, or at least make it hurt and get Congress to do something about it, but that is total speculation on a few industry insiders parts.

If TSA intends on getting out of the screening business, then they have a funny way of showing it, considering their reluctance to approve airport applications to opt-out of their federalized screeners to private companies. It took Congress to override Administrator Pistole’s stance against privatized screening (known as the Screening Partnership program or “opt-out,”) so I doubt TSA is trying to shed their screening function.

In fact, if you look at TSA’s moves over the past few years, its been to put more of a focus on screening. The first was the takeover of the document check process. Then we have TSA’s two big initiatives that continue to move forward, despite industry questions – behavior detection and passenger screening canines. I actually agree with both of the programs but I do question their implementation. Behavior detection works when it’s taught to all personnel at an airport and includes a questioning process, not taught to a few teams of TSA personnel who are then left to wander the terminal. I also believe that law enforcement makes a good point that they should play a greater role in the passenger screening canines, both with respect to their ability to respond to a violent situation and their understanding of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The ASP amendment is posted to the TSA Secure Web Board and been provided to TSA Federal Security Directors.

The amendment will require one regulated party, either the airport operator or the air carrier to maintain responsibility for exit lane monitoring.

TSA continues to maintain the position that the exit lanes are an access control function while the airports and airlines feel that preventing prohibited items from entering the sterile area is inherently a screening function and therefore falls under TSA jurisdiction per the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 (ATSA).

From a regulatory perspective, prevention of prohibited items into the sterile area is a dual responsibility, both a screening function and an access control (i.e. control of doors and gates) function. Now we’re getting down to the splitting of hairs about what constitutes a Part 1542 access control point and a Part 1544 screening point.

The amendment will include language which allows the regulated party to choose between utilizing exit lane technology, law enforcement officers or others to staff the exit lanes. The proposed amendment has a 45 day comment period which closes on July 15, 2013. TSA will then take 30 days to review and adjudicate the comments and will issue a final amendment by early August. Airports will then work with their FSD for a local amendment to their Airport Security Programs, which must be approved by September 3, 2013, for final implementation in late December.

It’s at this point that Meadowlark Lemon will have taken the feed from Curly Neal and the amendment will be a slam dunk on the hapless but forever courageous, Generals.

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