Assembling a mosaic: Three Federal Register notices from TSA

Published June 9th, 2008

Sometimes, the juiciest bits of information about the U.S. Government’s future plans for homeland security can be found buried in innocuous-looking notices published in the Federal Register.

Such was the case last Friday, when TSA published three short announcements that provide interesting windows into its latest thinking.

The first notice, on its surface, was an announcement that TSA wants to collect specific information about security concerns held by officials who operate approximately 3,000 general aviation airports across the country. Nothing terribly exciting about that. But, it was only on closer inspection that one realized that the information collected from these airport operators will provide the context for TSA to launch a feasibility study to determine whether DHS should begin a program to dispense financial grants to some of these general aviation airports. New security money for small local airports. Now that’s interesting!

"TSA will use these results to assess vulnerabilities at any general aviation airport and recommend security measures to mitigate any significant threat or vulnerabilities," explained the notice, which was published on June 6. "The assessment data could also be used in the implementation of a grant program," it added.

The second notice points out that TSA will continue monitoring applications made by foreign students to attend flight training schools in the U.S. This surveillance practice, which began in 2004, was of course based on the fact that few people seemed to notice that several students from Saudi Arabia (who went on to become the infamous 9/11 hijackers) received their flight training with little scrutiny in U.S. flight schools.

Under the current procedures, TSA gathers biographic information and fingerprints from approximately 26,500 foreign students annually, which it uses to run background checks. TSA also requires each employee of each of 4,500 flight training schools to receive security awareness training on an annual basis. The foreign applicants who provide this data and the flight schools that keep track of their training programs will expend more than half a million hours a year on these efforts, the TSA estimated.

In an attempt to cut down on this record-keeping burden, TSA has narrowed the definition of the foreign flight training student who must adhere to these reporting requirements. "TSA specified that candidates applying for flight training in aircraft weighing 12,500 lbs. or less would be subject to requirements only if they are training towards an initial certificate, an instrument, or multi-engine training," TSA explained.

Finally, in third notice, which was even more obscure, TSA announced that it plans to continue collecting information from "454 regulated airport operators" about the "security of persons and property," without actually providing any specific information about the types and quantities of information it has been gathering.

"TSA is seeking renewal of this information collection because airport security programs are needed to provide for the safety and security of persons and property on an aircraft operating in commercial air transportation against acts of criminal violence, aircraft piracy, and the introduction of an unauthorized weapon, explosive, or incendiary onto an aircraft," explained the TSA notice, also published on June 6, but it didn’t indicate the types of data it would be seeking.

Federal Register notices often contain bits and pieces of information that at first blush might look rather unimportant, but we here at GSN: Government Security News love to gather – and think about – these random bits of information because when they’re properly organized they can create a fascinating, and revealing, mosaic.

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