By Jamie Goldberg
8:01 PM PDT, June 7, 2012
WASHINGTON — If the Transportation Security Administration wants to fix its poor public image, it might want to stop patting down recognizable passengers such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"There are certain people that are just so well-known that you've just got to use your common sense," said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee. "Because if you start patting them down, people are going to say, 'They're patting down Beyonce.' "I mean, she's not going to blow a plane up."
In an acknowledgment of continued public frustration with TSA, the subcommittee met Thursday to address the agency's efforts to fix its "poor customer service image and become a leaner, smarter agency."
TSA Administrator John Pistole told the subcommittee that the agency is committed to a more risk-based approach to security that would focus on passengers they have less information about. He said that TSA has implemented less-intrusive screening methods for certain customers, including a recent decision to allow passengers 75 and older to leave their shoes and outerwear on as they pass through security.
About 1.5 million customers are also now enrolled in TSA's PreCheck, which allows certain pre-screened passengers to go through an expedited security system.
But TSA screens more than 600 million people each year, many of whom are not seeing the changes.
Rogers griped that the TSA's efforts to shed its bad image were moving at a "snail's pace."
"The American people are just really disgusted and outraged with the department that they see is bloated and inefficient," Rogers said.
The TSA has made efforts to centralize its leadership and add technical training programs and will provide tactical communications training to every officer by the end of the year, Rogers said. It has also expanded its ombudsman and traveler engagement offices.
"If we have treated somebody unprofessionally, then shame on us because we have not done the job that we are expected to do," Pistole said. "So that's clearly on us, and that's why we're doing all of this new training, retraining, professionalizing of the workforce."
"I find myself flying less because I don't want to deal with TSA," said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Assn. for Airline Passenger Rights. "Passengers don't have a lot of confidence in TSA. Their track record hasn't been positive, and they've been dismissive of our concerns."
Despite public frustration with TSA, complaints filed against the agency are rare and in decline, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security records.
In March, TSA screened 56 million passengers and received 1,294 complaints on such topics as courtesy, wait times during the screening process and damage to luggage. In contrast, TSA screened 55 million passengers in March 2011 and received 1,445 complaints, according to the agency.