Registered Traveler ought to be re-launched as a serious risk-based security program
The travel and tourism industry is worried about when business travelers will return in such force that prices will climb to profitable levels for hotels, airlines and all manner of travel services providers. Of course these frequent travelers often require more flexibility, i.e. higher-value services, and are the ones entertaining prospective customers in our cities’ restaurants and following up with important documents via overnight package delivery. Indeed, these travel activities are a means to a vital end in which commercial transactions are completed that drive national economic growth and create jobs.
It is in every American’s interest that business travelers transit the nation’s aviation system with the maximum level of efficiency possible. This includes not having to routinely sit unproductively on tarmacs for hours at overscheduled and congested airports, or as is the subject of this analysis, not being encumbered by unpredictable and inefficient airport security-clearance processes.
Before we resume our ascent to 1 billion annual domestic airline passengers (from 741 million in 2008), with attendant airport security congestion, we ought to take this strategic opportunity to re-launch Registered Traveler (RT) as the serious risk-based security program that Congress intended it to be. RT holds the latent promise of higher productivity for business travelers and more efficient use of scarce federal resources for aviation system security.
According to an August 2009 report by the Reason Foundation, “The cost-effectiveness of such an approach--focusing limited aviation security resources away from lower-risk travelers and toward higher-risk travelers--was documented early on in studies by RAND Corporation and Carnegie-Mellon University. More recently, operations researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released a study offering further support. As published in the June 2009 issue of IIE Transactions, it reported their development of a risk-based security screening methodology. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Department of Homeland Security.”
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE IN THE RT PROGRAM?
1. RT Member Background Checks
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) needs to manage RT members’ background checks. Instead of cross checking a member’s name against the national terrorism watch list, more robust criminal history background checks need to be conducted on every prospective RT member, and repeated on an ongoing basis. This would establish a platform on which advanced screening technologies could be more readily developed and efficiently deployed.
2. RT Vendor Technology Ownership
It was flawed thinking from the beginning that RT vendors would compete for customers and differentiate themselves by implementing innovative screening technologies in the security lanes. As was made abundantly clear with the plagued and infamous GE shoe scanner, TSA controls an approval process that effectively blocks the kind of innovation-based competition envisioned by early RT proponents. Moreover, such a process sets the stage for Congressional oversight hearings wherein, in response to queries about lack of progress in the area of advanced screening technologies, TSA points fingers at RT vendors, and vice versa.
A more effective and cost-efficient structure would be for TSA to own the complete technology sourcing budget and process such that (1) unobscured accountability would be ensured, (2) a consistent security product across the system would be deployed, and (3) a bigger-picture view would be enabled with regard to how new screening technologies could eventually be implemented for the benefit of all airline passengers and leveraged into new uses in rail and ferry transportation as well as access to government buildings, high-profile public events and other strategically important venues. (Privacy groups should also have a seat-at-the-table during any strategic review, or program re-design.)
A TSA-owned technology approach would allow RT vendors to fully concentrate on the complex task of developing a national RT program with millions of members integrated with Global Entry, or “International RT.” To succeed in such an endeavor, RT firms need considerable consumer-marketing expertise and executives with proven skills in customer service delivery and travel industry sales, distribution, marketing and public relations as well as key industry relationships and a thorough understanding of airline, airport and travel management company economics. A 100% focus in these areas would better enable a holistic view of business travelers’ door-to-door needs enabling innovative services that would enhance travelers’ productivity, security and safety.
3. Member Enrollment Model
A central reason RT only grew to a couple of hundred thousand members, instead of a couple million members with sustainable economics, was an incredibly inefficient and high-cost enrollment process that stalled the program and forced it into a tailspin before a national critical mass could be achieved. Essentially, prospective members had to plan in advance to enroll at participating airports, or RT vendors had to ship and provide staff for enrollment kiosks on large corporate campuses. In contrast, what is needed is a strategic partnership with a firm owning a nationwide network of 1,000 or more “storefronts” where enrollment kiosks and staff could be efficiently deployed and where prospective RT members could conveniently schedule enrollment appointments.
Significant business traveler demand remains for RT and support among travel and airport industry organizations is strong. We will no doubt return to 4% to 5% annual passenger growth as the taxi toward 1 billion passengers gets underway once again. We are not building new airports, so more efficient use of limited space and scarce security dollars is necessary if we are going to facilitate the business of business travel and power a strong and broad economic recovery in the immediate years ahead. Now is an opportune time to act on the important lessons learned from the promising but structurally flawed initial public-private partnership that was RT and emplace a sustainable program that benefits all Americans.