5 Tips for TSA from Their Government Peers

11/19/2010 11:36 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earlier this week, we posed the following challenge to members of GovLoop, a group of nearly 40,000 people who work in and around government:

As you might suspect with all the mainstream media coverage, this post has been our most popular over the past week as it has elicited over 80 comments to date. While we've seen some of the flagrant flaming of TSA that is typical of most forums across the Web, we have also been impressed with the number of thoughtful responses with constructive ideas for TSA. Since the community is mostly comprised of civil servants and private contractors who work alongside government, you might consider it something akin to a family intervention.

Here are the best five pieces of advice:

1. Tell Us the Truth. From Michael Sponhour, Director Public Affairs for the South Carolina Budget and Control Board:

From a PR perspective, the problem here for TSA is partly tone and attitude. What we need to hear is something more like this: "Yes, we understand you don't like this. That's a reasonable reaction. But this new technology will deal with a specific threat such as xxx and xxx and is based upon xxxx." I imagine that TSA may claim that they don't want to disclose "methods" or "tip off terrorists" but you simply cannot expect people to trust federal "experts" in this current climate.

2. Explain the Procedure to Passengers. One respondent was a Senior Transportation Security Officer for TSA, who offered this firsthand perspective:

We try to be through and complete. We try to explain the procedure before we start touching and we answer the questions as best we can. Just remember, we don't have ALL of the answers. At some point the information gets cut off, but the policy keeps coming down. If you are curious, just keep asking 'Up the chain'.

3. Describe the Cost/Benefit Analysis. A woman who goes only by Susan, a Senior Legislative Affairs Analyst for A3 Technology, Inc, made this recommendation:

If TSA or the Inspectors General will publish a cost/benefit study that lays out what this whole efforts has cost in time, money, intrusion, credibility, lost travel, international and domestic esteem, and many other factors vs. the benefit it has yielded, much would be served in taking this whole effort from a 'police state-big brother' posture to one of well-considered (not posturing, knee-jerk) security.

4. Learn from Our International Neighbors. "I have heard that Israel has a superior approach to this type of security," From Jeff S., a Compliance Officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Maybe its time for the US to import that method." In response, a TSA employee offered some clarification: "I'll be the first to say that there are areas where we (TSA) can do much better -- including using Israeli methods for detection and prevention. Having said that, you should know that there are only three international airports in Israel. TSA has a presence in over 460 U.S. airports." He also noted: "We have a large and growing Behavior Detection Officer (BDO) program. We use the same techniques and methods that the Israeli's use to profile behavior. We currently have BDOs at 161 airports nationwide."

5. Give The Officers Training. Tom Melancon, an Alternative Dispute Resolution Program Manager for the US Department of Labor, suggested three types of training could help frontline staff:

First , TSA should spend some time and money on a Public Relations campaign to explain to the American Air Traveler why the scanners are needed, the risks involved in using them, etc. Second, the Agency should revise their customer service training for all employees, emphasizing that the way you say things can be just important as what you say. Third, train all TSA staff members in dispute resolution and crisis de-escalation.

Of course, there are other reasonable suggestions like:

We need to exempt as many persons as possible from ANY security checks by doing background checks in advance for all that request them, and grant "security clearnance" to those who qualify. This would save long lines, save huge amounts of money, and allow TSA to focus on real threats.

-- Richard E. Mallory, President, Mallory Management

Dogs are excellent methods of detecting real time explosives and even fear in individuals. Fuzzy beagles, Labradors, and Hounds are not the German Shepherds of the civil rights era protester. Roving, in any lines, walking around, these are better detectors than any scanner.

-- Samuel Liles, Associate Professor, Purdue University Calumet

So those are at least five ways that TSA could approach the situation.

What I appreciate about the GovLoop community -- and this conversation, in particular -- was nicely expressed by another Department of Homeland Security employee:

This entire conversation is absolutely fascinating... if only we could expand this model of dialogue so that it would become the norm across the board, a lot of good decisions would be made and a lot of bad ideas would never see daylight.

So now I challenge you: what are your thoughtful and constructive ideas for TSA?