How TSA wants to make flying easier, part II

I have evidence TSA and its contractors are committed to continuous improvement.

When you’re being poked and patted near your pits and parts, it may be difficult to think of the Transportation Security Administration as on your side. But cut them a little slack. I have evidence the agency and its contractors are committed to continuous improvement.

Various published reports, such as this account in The Hill, detail a new training facility in Georgia so both new hires and experienced officers can hone their skills with the equipment and procedures. Training sessions will run for two weeks. The new program follows reports from the Homeland Security inspector general that banned items — including a realistic, mock bomb — were regularly getting past TSA checkpoints.

This gets to the heart of the agency’s issues: How fast and how safely it can get people through screening, one of the least agreeable rituals in 21st century life. Think of airport screening on a two-axis scatter diagram. Left scale is horribly slow and intrusive at the bottom, sail-through at the top. The bottom scale is letting bombs and loaded guns through on the left end and complete confidence to the right. The challenge is putting most of the dots in the upper right quadrant.

Last week I wrote about my experience at a TSA PreCheck enrollment center in McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. As regular fliers know, Pre status expedites screening by letting you keep your shoes and jacket on your body, your notebook PC in your bag. Also your dignity is kept somewhat intact.

First, a correction: Pre enrollment, to speed you through security in domestic air travel, is only $85 for five years. The $100 figure applies to the Global Entry system covering international travel.

Karen Gough, a senior director at MorphoTrust USA, called with more information. Morpho’s the company that operates the more than 40 TSA Pre enrollment centers at airports under a contract with TSA. It also operates many off-airport enrollment offices — 350 altogether.

Thanks to the magic of Google alerts, the company learned of the error I encountered when the agent I dealt with could not verify my mother’s maiden name on my birth certificate. Gough said the birth certificate process is still in the pilot phase.

The problem was on Ohio’s end, a faulty back-file conversion program.  The birth certificate verification, for those without a passport, is done in conjunction with a non-profit called NAPHSIS, of Silver Spring, Maryland. That stands for National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems . Gough told me it’s been resolved for all of us Buckeyes.

She also told me TSA is expanding the reach of its enrollment process. Soon, Gough said, 75 H&R Block stores will also have Pre enrollment capability.

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More commentary from Tom Temin