New TSA ad­min­is­tra­tor ad­vo­cates in­vest­ment in ca­nines, tech­nol­ogy

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - BUSINESS - By Kelly Ya­manouchi kya­manouchi@ajc.com

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new head David Pekoske said he is ad­vo­cat­ing for fu­ture in­vest­ments in ca­nine units and tech­nol­ogy to handle pas­sen­gers com­ing through air­ports.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed bud­get re­leased ear­lier this year in­cluded cuts in fund­ing for lo­cal po­lice in air­ports, ded­i­cated be­hav­ioral de­tec­tion of­fi­cers and teams that pa­trol air­ports and other pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties, along with an in­crease in TSA fees paid by pas­sen­gers.

While the fed­eral bud­get process for fis­cal year 2018 con­tin­ues in Congress, Pekoske said the ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­vel­op­ing its fis­cal year 2019 bud­get and that’s where he is ad­vo­cat­ing for in­vest­ments in tech­nol­ogy to in­crease ef­fi­ciency, con­tin­ued fund­ing for ca­nine units and staffing flex­i­bil­ity.

“Se­cu­rity is a pri­or­ity for the pres­i­dent,” Pekoske said. “We ad­vo­cate for in­creases in staffing to be able to meet in­creases in pas­sen­ger through­put . ... You don’t nec­es­sar­ily need an in­crease in over­all staffing. You might be able to re­al­lo­cate ex­ist­ing staffing,” he said, if au­to­ma­tion re­duces staffing needs in one area, for ex­am­ple.

He added that the is­sue of low morale among TSA work­ers is one he in­tends to tackle head on.

A for­mer U.S. Coast Guard vice com­man­dant and fed­eral con­trac­tor ex­ec­u­tive, Pekoske is vis­it­ing At­lanta on Thurs­day and Fri­day to meet with TSA work­ers, Delta Air Lines and Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port. He is also meet­ing with TSA screen­ers from St. Thomas who are tem­po­rar­ily work­ing in At­lanta due to hur­ri­cane dam­age to St. Thomas.

TSA worked with Delta and the At­lanta air­port for de­ploy­ment of the na­tion’s first au­to­mated se­cu­rity lanes, with mul­ti­ple sta­tions for pas­sen­gers to fill bins and an au­to­mated bin re­turn sys­tem to speed screen­ing.

While new screen­ing tech­nolo­gies bring hope that some of the rules for carry-on items like liq­uids and lap­tops could change in the fu­ture, Pekoske said the new tech­nolo­gies must be tested, and it could be sev­eral years be­fore that prompts changes in re­quire­ments.

Pekoske ac­knowl­edged one item caught at se­cu­rity check­points is a par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant is­sue: Guns.

Last year, 3,391 guns were caught at air­port se­cu­rity check­points around the coun­try, in­clud­ing 198 at Harts­field-Jack­son — the most of any U.S. air­port. About 83 per­cent of those guns were loaded.

Just in the past two weeks, TSA of­fi­cers caught 165 firearms in carry-on bags around the coun­try, in­clud­ing more than a dozen at the At­lanta air­port alone.

“It’s a con­cern of ours,” Pekoske said.

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