Congress created the Transportation Security Administration not long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as part of a national effort to prevent such attacks from ever happening again. TSA’s predominant, and most public, role involves operating security checkpoints and performing other related duties at more than 450 U.S. airports, and it screens millions of air travelers daily while doing so. But the security agency’s mission encompasses far more than just scrutinizing flyers and X-raying their luggage.
TSA Operates Internationally
Though TSA’s major security focus is on safeguarding U.S. airports from terror threats, the agency is frequently called upon by international partners to examine their airports as well. Transportation security inspectors from TSA regularly conduct foreign airport security assessments to ensure departing flights to the U.S. aren’t vulnerable to terrorist attacks or travel by terrorists. In addition, the agency’s TSIs are often called upon to carry out inspections of foreign airlines that offer direct flights to the United States. TSA has dozens of representatives, in fact, who work hand in hand with other countries, their airports and their airlines.
TSA Screens You Long Before You Fly
The passenger security screening you undergo when you pass through a TSA airport security checkpoint is only one of nearly two dozen security layers the agency maintains to safeguard air travel. In fact, your security screening typically begins long before you approach that airport checkpoint. For example, once you make your airline reservation your name is vetted through the agency’s Secure Flight system, which then sends instructions to your airline that determine your level of screening intensity. Depending on what the agency finds, you may be eligible for very low-intensity TSA PreCheck screening or you may be designated for standard screening, which is normally the case. For various reasons, some people ID’d by the agency may also be designated for enhanced security screening.
It Helps Protect More Than Air Transportation
Without doubt, TSA is most widely known for its presence at U.S. airports. But the security agency also helps safeguard 4 million miles of roads, 140,000 miles of railroad tracks and more than 610,000 bridges, all of which comprise the nation’s surface transportation system. As part of the Department of Homeland Security, TSA also works closely with the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Patrol and other agencies to provide maritime security for 12,000 miles of coastline and 25,000 miles of navigable waterways. There’s a TSA presence at many maritime ports, for instance, and the cruise industry is closely regulated by TSA as well.
Oil and Gas Transport
Much of the nation’s oil and natural gas moves through 2.7 million miles of pipeline. TSA representatives and inspectors also play a vital role in helping protect those pipelines from threat, and the agency has a representative permanently stationed in Anchorage, Alaska to coordinate it all. Plus, pipeline companies work closely with TSA, which provides guidelines and training materials to improve their security preparedness and awareness. The security coordination undertaken between the agency and its private security transportation partners is truly a team effort.
Best Bang for the Buck
When all its varied missions and roles are factored in, there seems little doubt the Transportation Security Administration is striving to deliver the most bang for the buck when it comes to security. This is especially evident when the agency’s relatively small budget is frequently impacted by congressional reallocations of some of the money collected from the security fee charged to flyers. Those funds were originally intended to help finance TSA operations, training and hiring efforts. However, over the years Congress has moved billions of dollars from the fee into the Treasury’s general fund.
Whether such reallocations have negatively impacted TSA’s security mission is difficult to determine without much study. But it would seem to make more sense to keep the money collected from the fee with TSA to help it improve security in the air as well as across the country’s vast surface transportation and pipeline systems.
Kelly Hoggan, Founder and CEO of H4 Solutions, previously served as assistant administrator for operations at the Transportation Security Administration. In that role, he was responsible for aircraft and checkpoint security operations at the nation's 400-plus commercial airports.