Pistole: Education Critical to TSA Mission

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Top-flight educational programs are essential in helping the Transportation Security Administration meet its mission, the agency’s chief said during a visit Dec. 16-17 to the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security.

TSA Administrator John S. Pistole, spoke to a CHDS graduating class and also handed out diplomas during the Dec. 17 graduation ceremony on campus. His visit drew national and local media coverage.

During a conversation in Watkins Hall, Pistole said the TSA highly values education as a way to improve the agency’s performance. A partnership with NPS/CHDS is critical to meeting part of those educational needs.

"With the Naval Postgraduate School, for those who are at the midpoint or going to senior parts of their career progression, we can equip them with the skills and education that will allow them to become tomorrow’s leaders," Pistole said. "That’s why we appreciate the partnership with NPS."

The TSA has enjoyed a long-time relationship with CHDS. Nineteen homeland security professionals from TSA have completed the master’s degree program and 12 have completed the Executive Leaders Program. Moreover, more than 170 TSA officials access the Center’s Homeland Security Digital Library.

Educational offerings exist throughout the agency, Pistole noted. TSA has a program at dozens of airports in which community colleges offer classes on site, allowing employees to earn an associate’s degree. Also, the TSA is in the process of creating a TSA Academy, similar to the FBI’s academy that draws agency as well as state and local police officers from around the country.

During his classroom session with 29 CHDS students, he talked about the TSA mission 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks that spawned the agency. Among the initiative at the agency is developing a risk-based security initiative. This initiative involves two pilot programs: a pre-approved screening program at seven major airports and a behavior detection program at Boston Logan International and Detroit Metro Wayne County airports.

"Our goal is to provide the most effective security in the most efficient way," Pistole said. "What this is focused on is trying to use our limited resources in a more informed and common sense fashion; to get away from the one-size-fits-all construct that was stood up after 9/11 for aviation security."

The pre-screening program enables frequent flyers who are U.S. citizens and part of Custom Border Patrol’s Trusted Global Entry program to expedite their passage through airport security. The travelers ‘background has been checked and their status is embedded in the barcode of their boarding pass.

The behavior detection program enlists officers who have undergone additional specialized training in interviewing methods designed to identify travelers who should undergo additional screening to resolve an identified anomaly or suspicious characteristic at the security checkpoint, according to TSA.

The aim, Pistole said, is to focus on people who are threats rather than objects – such as lighters or hair gels – that in and of themselves cannot bring down an aircraft.

"It’s a recognition that our job is to mitigate or manage risk," he said. "We can’t eliminate risk without causing tremendous delays and challenges for passengers, but also it would shut down the global supply chain for cargo coming to us if we try to provide a 100 percent guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen."

Pistole, a 27-year FBI veteran, was confirmed as the Transportation Security Administration’s fifth administrator in July 2010. As TSA Administrator, he oversees management of a 60,000-strong workforce, the security operations of more than 450 federalized airports throughout the U.S., the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), and the security for highways, railroads, ports, mass transit systems and pipelines.

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