For our May 10 show, I interviewed Transportation Security Administration Chief Human Capital Officer Jason Nelson. Unlike previous shows that highlighted agencies many Americans don’t even know exist, folks are generally very familiar with TSA’s primary mission of maintaining the security of U.S. air travel. That familiarity may lead people to think they know more about TSA than they really do, and after 20 years without a major air travel event, some people have started taking the agency for granted. That has led to naive proposals for returning to the same localized privatization model that failed so miserably in the past.
In fact, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes at TSA than people realize, and good reasons why TSA has been so successful compared to the old model. Federalizing air travel security has enabled TSA to consolidate critical functions and leverage economies of scale to fund them at levels no single airport authority or private company ever could or would. Leveraging economies of scale, that centralized effort has enabled TSA to keep pace with a continuously evolving and growing threat from adversaries and other bad actors. One example of this is centralized R&D on sensors that is done in coordination with other federal security and defense agencies. TSA has made exponential improvements in the efficacy and efficiency of sensors. As a result, TSA airport sensors today are capable of detecting potential dangerous items that the general public doesn’t even know exist.
Federalizing air travel security has also resulted in similar improvements in both process and personnel. For example, consolidated and standardized training for TSOs enables TSA to hire world class instructors and continuously improve a syllabus that includes best practices, lessons learned and threat intelligence gathered from screening two million passengers per day at more than 400 airports nationwide.
We also had the chance to discuss a number of things about TSA that people don’t know, including TSA’s role in keeping our pipelines, railroads and highways safe.
Most importantly for our show, we discussed how hundreds of thousands of people have been able to take advantage of serving in the TSA as a gateway to amazing careers within the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere. Each year, TSA hires 10,000 TSOs in 400 different locations in every part of the country. That enormous scale and geographic dispersion, coupled with the fact that these openings are entry level jobs open to people with or without a college degree provides fantastic career opportunities nationwide.
Previously considered relatively low paying jobs with great benefits, changes in the TSA pay system recently approved by Congress have increased TSA pay significantly. As a result, these are now very well-paying entry-level jobs with health, retirement, educational and time off benefits that are on par with local police departments and far better than most private security firms.
To learn more about the amazing work being done at the Transportation Security Administration, please listen to my interview with Jason either on the air Wednesday at 10:00 am or as a podcast available on the Federal News Network app or wherever you get your podcasts.
Joe Paiva is a retired software industry executive best known for helping to start, grow, buy and sell tech companies. He also served as both an Army Reservist and a senior federal civilian leader in the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Commerce.