Friday, January 30, 2009

Welcoming the New Secretary

Former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is now officially on board as the new Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier this week, she published her first post on the DHS Leadership Journal titled “Getting to Work.” I suggest you follow the link and give it a read.

Also, TSA was happy to welcome Secretary Napolitano to its headquarters earlier this week for her first visit.

The Secretary was given three brief presentations on Security Operations, Technology, and Public Engagement. I was lucky enough to be able to present the latter, and the Secretary seems to be very interested in social media and wants to look into various ways the blog can be used. She has also stated that she plans to be a regular poster at the DHS Leadership Journal.

I look forward to seeing what new challenges we can all tackle together.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vlogging With Blogger Bob

Vlog. No, it's not an Eastern European surname, (Vlog the Vlogger) it's short for Video Log. Vlogging is basically blogging with a video. We're not switching to a Vlog format, but we are going to start vlogging occasionally.

In this vlog, we show you some footage of the inauguration. As history was being made, more than 300 of our Transportation Security Officers were there partnering with the US Secret Service to help keep the record breaking crowd safe.

For the snarks out there, we were funded by the United States Secret Service. TSA along with the its other DHS components worked with federal, state, and local authorities at the inauguration helping to keep nearly 2 million people safe. The inauguration was designated a National Special Security Event by DHS.

Check out our web page to see what part TSA played in this mammoth security undertaking. TSA.GOV

EoS Blog Team

Monday, January 19, 2009

Administrator Kip Hawley's Final TSA Blog Post

TSA opened up this web dialogue about a year ago to get feedback from the public and engage with them on the issues that they presented. We have learned a great deal from those of you who have posted and I am grateful for your engagement with us. While some of the individual comments are painful to read and/or based on something that is factually wrong, taken as an aggregate there are undeniable, unavoidable themes.

One of those themes is that TSA's security is intellect-free. The broad categories seem to be about doubting the reality of the current threat, perceived vulnerabilities, and experiences that defy common sense.

With this post, I would like to touch on threat and vulnerabilities and focus on how TSA is introducing more 'smart' security at the airport.

Threat information comes in many forms, virtually all of it coming to us with restrictions on how we can use it. The good news is that we get it -- and use it -- to craft our security activities, and we literally do that every day. The bad news is that a condition of getting the really detailed and actionable information is that we cannot fully explain to the public the 'why' behind what we do. Ellen Howe's previous post discusses how we have tried to get out as much as we can on the 'why,' most recently, with the Ad Council.

The point on vulnerabilities is that since there are vulnerabilities in every system, what's important is to identify them and then compensate for those vulnerabilities with other measures. TSA is involved in risk-management - understanding our vulnerabilities, looking at what terrorists may be planning, and devoting our main efforts to reduce the risk of attacks with catastrophic consequences.

You might look at it like mapping out a spectrum of attacks causing catastrophic consequences, then overlaying it with vulnerabilities, and then circling in red the vulnerabilities associated with high-consequence attack scenarios where we know terrorists are plotting. We look for compensating measures across the spectrum to protect against vulnerabilities or plotting of which we are unaware. But first of all, we take action to close down any vulnerabilities circled in red. When we see an intersection of threat, vulnerability and consequence, TSA takes action as we have with liquids and shoes even though we know that they will not be popular. We are more likely to consider convenience issues in other areas of the spectrum and devote considerable effort in working with our airport and airline colleagues to make things work with the least possible inconvenience. There are technology answers -- but we have to close the gap until the technology answer works and is deployed.

Part of the problem with the 'common sense' theme is that our rhetoric of smarter, flexible, unpredictable, stay-ahead-of-the-terrorist strategy can clash with your personal experience. Some measures are in place now and others rolling out that will sharply reduce that disconnect. I will mention a few examples in each of our key areas: people, technology, and process.

First off with our people, TSA is about two-thirds of the way through retraining our entire airport workforce, from Federal Security Director to front-line Officer. (Headquarters elements are also included.) This training is worthy of its own post but it is two full days in length and covers the gamut from human factors to updated information on terrorist weapons and tactics. It is all about being smart about how we do our security job and how to think in terms of identifying real - and sophisticated - threats and less about running through a checklist.

Secondly, we are also about two-thirds through a major deployment of much more sophisticated carry-on bag scanners, AT-X-ray. About 600 of the new, smarter AT's are deployed already with another 300 more in the next few months. These are the machines that will be able to detect threat liquids (or powders, gels, etc.) automatically and will allow TSA to change the baggie requirement and clear up many of the head-scratching moments you now endure. (Probably about a year away.)

Finally, I have spoken about wanting to break up the rigidity of checkpoint screening and mentioned a goal of changing it up, spreading it out, and calming it down. With a re-trained workforce that has better technology, we can make the existing process calmer. There are opportunities also to make process changes that will make things smoother. For instance, where we have rigid and predictable criteria for extra screening (like last minute travel changes and one-way tickets), we can get more security value by using less obvious criteria like randomness or behavior and make things less congested at the checkpoint.

While this forum will continue to hear from our vigorous critics, I hope that in addition to the words of the indefatigable Blogger Bob and his colleagues, you will see that TSA has backed them up with actions in the year that the EoS Blog has been in business.

Our on-line presence is much clearer, deeper, and more accessible - and improvements will continue. Black Diamond, laptop bags, clearer signage, better explanations of the “why”, are all examples of actions taken by TSA that were helped by this blog discussion. You've helped us prioritize your pain points and we do, in fact, work to reduce those.

The security needs in aviation (and surface transportation) are significant and on-going. Real security risk mitigation can only happen when all parties - including the public - are active, positive participants. The men and women of TSA are amazing in their commitment to protect you and it has been an honor to serve with them. I hope that, going forward, your personal experience with our people, bolstered by better technology and process, will bring us together in support of our common objective - untroubled transportation to our chosen destination and a safe, smooth return home.

Thank you for your interest and participation,


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Ad Council: A Final Post From Ellen Howe

In my final days here at TSA as the Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs (I’m one of four TSA political appointees leaving on January 20th), I wanted to get one last blog post in on our partnership with the Ad Council that supports our security operations. It’s something that was pretty important for me to get done before I left.

TSA interacts with two million people a day, and of that number, only a tiny fraction present a potential threat. The challenge for us is to get the majority of passengers through security efficiently so that we can focus on real threats, derived from intelligence gathering, watch lists and on-the-spot observations. Critical to this effort is getting the public on our side as active players in the security process. So in addition to reading blogs, web forums and the like, we held focus groups in several major cities in late 2007 to engage both frequent fliers and less experienced travelers to get their feedback on airport security.

What we heard wasn’t pretty, but it gave us insights to improve the process.

The first sessions were held in New York City just two blocks from the Ground Zero. It was surprising that people could be there, so close to where the towers once stood, and say that they never think about 9/11 when they fly. We learned the “road warriors” had to harden themselves to that possibility in order to fly so frequently. They also are frustrated by inexperienced travelers and families who slow down the lines.

Less frequent travelers said that they still think about 9/11 every time they fly. They worry about feeling stupid at the checkpoint for not knowing all the rules and getting barked at by officers and other passengers. Some didn't realize airline security was carried out by a federal agency, and many didn’t know TSA had a Web site where they could find information to help them get through security easier.

It was apparent that the participants largely saw TSA as a hindrance and inconvenience, as do many others that comment on this and other blogs. Overwhelmingly, participants were interested in knowing why they had to do what they do and said it would help them prepare for and participate at the checkpoint.

TSA had issued press releases, posted information on the web, even started this blog to reach out to travelers, but we had never used an organization like the Ad Council to conduct a comprehensive public awareness effort. The Ad Council is well-known and well-respected for its ability to raise awareness of critical issues and impact public behavior. They partnered with us just in time for the busiest travel weekend of the year: Thanksgiving. The results of this partnership were very positive – over the holiday season, we reached 41 million Americans.

The campaign includes videos that address common travelers’ concerns (shoes, ID, traveling with kids, laptops, etc.), web banners on travel-related sites and outreach to airline and travel sites encouraging them to post links to so passengers can get security-related information. Our goal is to reach people when they’re most focused on preparing for travel – when they book their flights or print out their boarding passes. The more people are prepared, the better it is for everyone.

Before I leave, I want to thank the people at TSA who built, maintain and participate on the blog – many didn’t think we could launch it and weren’t sure what would happen once we did. I’d also like to thank everyone who reads and comments on the blog. Good and bad, your input is appreciated and useful to many of us here at TSA.

Ellen Howe

Guest Blogger

Friday, January 9, 2009

Comment Policy Refresher

Over time, we’ve seen some complaints about censorship and deleted comments. The most common comments to be deleted are spam, comments containing curse words, posts with no substance, (i.e. you suck) double comments and comments containing large URLs. We just wanted to talk about the comment policy and help people understand where we’re coming from.

1) It’s fine to be critical of the TSA on the blog. We never expected our blog to be a haven for our fans to wave their big foam hand that reads “TSA is #1.” It’s obvious if you read all of the previous comments on our blog that we’re not shy of criticism. In fact, we may appear to be masochistic at times. However, that criticism should be respectful. To maintain a civil discourse on the blog, we just can’t post overly disrespectful comments or name calling of any kind. (crybaby, idiot, rent-a-cop, moron, etc.) We get sarcasm, and it’s still OK to be snarky, of course.
2) I use some very colorful language when I’m away from family and work, so I’m not offended by vulgarity. However, many people are. Also, this is a government blog, and while we do our best to let our hair down and not be your typical source of government information, we simply can’t allow vulgar language. What isn’t vulgar to you is vulgar to somebody else. So no matter how minor or common the curse word, we won’t publish your comment if it contains any vulgar language. It pains us to do this sometimes. I’ve had to reject some really good comments due to minor curse words. Even if you abbreviate, or use the typical %*$&#*$%(%($*# in place of the actual word, folks still know what you meant and we won’t post it. I’m sure everybody can show their passion for a topic without being a potty mouth. So, consider your rejected post to be a virtual bar of soap that we washed your mouth out with.

3) Spam… Admittedly, we have missed a few here and there, but we do our best to keep the blog spam-free.

4) It is not mandatory, but several of us on our own time, after work or on weekends, have moderated the blog. Please don’t expect this to happen all the time. There will be times when your comment may not be approved until the next business day if it’s posted after hours or on a weekend.

5) For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. I am lenient on this due to the way the blog is set up, but if you feel the need to post repetitive comments that have already been posted elsewhere, they will be rejected.

6) When linking to another blog or webpage, make sure there is no offensive content on that page. Also, long URLs knock our format out of whack, so we have to reject comments containing long URLs. There are a couple of fixes for this. Go to It is a free service that will convert your long URLs into a much shorter URL. Also, you can go here to learn how to hyperlink.

7) We do appreciate everyone’s participation on the blog and we do value your comments, good and bad. I just wanted you to better understand the methods of our madness and moderation.


EoS Blog Team

Thursday, January 8, 2009

TSA’s Work Abroad

With more than 2450* daily inbound flights to the U.S. from all over the world, TSA has put a major focus on collaborating with foreign aviation authorities and sharing best practices, intelligence, technological innovations and expertise so that flights coming into the United States have the same level of security as those departing the U.S.

In collaboration with DHS and Department of State, TSA coordinates transportation security bilaterally with individual countries and multilaterally through major international aviation-related organizations including the Group of Eight (G8), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the Asia –Pacific Economic Conference (APEC). Twenty-two TSA Representatives (TSARs) are deployed worldwide to serve as DHS’s “boots on the ground”; interfacing with international partners, coordinating the DHS response to transportation-related terrorist threats and incidents, and facilitating the security assessments conducted by TSA’s security specialists at more than 300 airports in more than 100 different countries. TSA’s international teams have successfully vetted 100% of airports with direct flights into the United States.

Here’s a brief overview of some of TSA’s international activities:

On August 1, 2008, TSA JFK Inspections and Screening coordinated security measures with Emirates Airlines to ensure the successful arrival of the first commercial A380 ‘superjumbo’ jet direct from Dubai.

For the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, TSA coordinated security efforts with the People’s Republic of China. This partnership began in the summer of 2007 when U.S. Federal Air Marshals hosted a training exchange with members of the Chinese Air Marshal Program at our facility in Atlantic City. From July 19 until August 24, TSA successfully coordinated security operations at China’s Joint Operation’s Center with teams deployed at airports in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

When thousands of anti-government protesters took over Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) on November 25 of this year, TSA responded by sending a team to assess the risk associated with flights departing for the United States. The team was able to ensure the security of direct flights to the United States by December 6, allowing Americans to return home safely.

In a brand new 2009 initiative, TSA plans to deploy special teams of veteran security experts to various international locations to assist host nations with enhancing and sustaining local aviation security. St. Lucia will be the first nation to participate in this initiative, and TSA’s assessment team will work with the St. Lucian Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation to assess training needs, equipment, and aviation security legislation.

For additional information on TSA’s international efforts, please visit


*Number edited on 1/5/10 to correct a missing zero. The number changed from 245, to 2450, which was the correct number at the time this post was published.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


The latest item to rise to top of my “Hot Topics” list is the concern of formaldehyde in the new TSA uniforms and the effect it is having on our officers. I have to admit, the first thing that came to mind was the “Til’ Death Do We Part” CSI episode where a funeral home employee was selling “used” clothing to second hand stores and people were dying from extreme formaldehyde exposure. Our case isn’t quite that severe, in fact, it’s not even close. But, when it comes to our officer’s safety, we take things very seriously and immediately looked into the issue back in September when we first became aware of some officers experiencing irritation from the new uniform. We also made 100% cotton uniforms available for any of our officers who needed them.
We went straight to the Vice President of Safety of VF Solutions, (The company that makes the uniforms) and he gave us some very helpful information:

VF Image Wear had an independent lab test 4 shirts - three shirts from officers that had significant skin irritations, and one from VF's inventory.

The testing tested for numerous irritants or allergens in or on the fabric, including formaldehyde. The testing showed that formaldehyde or any other irritant is NOT present in sufficient quantities to be the source of the skin irritation in a normal person, in fact the amount of formaldehyde in the tested shirts was “untraceable.” The industry standard testing would need to show in excess of 75 parts per million of formaldehyde to potentially be an issue. In fact, the testing is only sensitive to 20 parts per million, and again, formaldehyde did not register because it was below this level.

(Please note that TSA is working now conducting our own government assessment to verify the independent lab’s results using the same uniforms.)

Here are some additional factoids we learned from VF Solutions:

- The fabric used for TSA shirts has been purchased by VF Solutions from the same vendor without any changes for 10 years. In all colors, VF has purchased 105 million yards of fabric during that time, and produced 70 million shirts. In the royal blue used by TSA, VF has purchased 1.5 million yards and produced over 1 million shirts. VF Solutions has never had an issue raised or had any prior experience with skin irritations or rashes from this fabric.

- Fabric mills routinely use a resin compound which contains formaldehyde during the fabric weaving process. This compound adds the "permanent press" feature to fabrics containing cotton and rayon. This is a very common feature on the majority of cotton and rayon garments on the market today. Formaldehyde has been a component of this process since the 1960's. The government has regulations on the amount of formaldehyde that may be used.

- From internal interviews, VF has found no evidence of formaldehyde exposure from any of their own employees that cut the fabric, sew the garments or handle the garments in their distribution center.

- The fabric is manufactured solely in the U.S. at textile mills in North Carolina. The completed fabric is then sent to Mexico and Honduras to be sewn into uniforms and other clothing.

I also did some research to see how our uniform shirts compared to the formaldehyde levels of famous name brand manufacturers. I found the following in an article written by Dr. Sharyn Martin.

There is a variation in different country’s standards for formaldehyde release from textile finishes. Japan has the highest standards at 75 ppm for formaldehyde-releasing resin, compared with 300 ppm in the U.S. Some U.S. manufacturers are now using newer low formaldehyde or ‘no-formaldehyde’ finishes.

We take complaints of discomfort seriously of course, but to put this in perspective only 20 of our 45,000 have complained so far. So, as you can see from the facts, there’s no need to replace all of the uniforms as has been suggested elsewhere. It would be a shame to replace the uniform. Feedback from the workforce as well as passengers has been positive. There’s a great pride in the workforce about the new uniform.


EoS Blog Team