June 7, 2012 by David Olive

This morning the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, chaired by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), held a hearing entitled, “TSA’s Efforts to Fix Its Poor Customer Service Reputation and Become a Leaner, Smarter Agency.” The sole witness was TSA Administrator John Pistole.

As the hearing began, Subcommittee Chairman Rogers lectured Administrator Pistole – yes, lectured him – about TSA’s terrible public image; the sense of a lack of urgency in making changes to improve; the need to train personnel in passenger’s sensitivities; the sense that money is being spent on things that have not worked; the need to get “leaner and smarter;” and, the lack of common sense in doing their jobs. This was not a partisan hearing, in the strict political sense. Members on both sides of the dais weighed in on what should be done to “improve” TSA’s public image.

ARE YOU KIDDIN’ ME? Since when does Congress have the temerity to lecture anyone, much less an agency that Congress itself created and by all objective accounts is doing what Congress intended for it to do – make the American transportation system safer and more secure – on how to improve its poor reputation. If their ideas are so brilliant, one has to ask why they don’t focus on their own problems concerning the reputation of Congress instead of picking on TSA?

As the title of this blog post implies, I believe Congress needs to heal itself first before trying to tell TSA (or anyone else in DHS) how to “fix” their reputation. Now, this position is both difficult and awkward for me. I had the privilege of spending time as a Congressional staffer. I know Rep. Mike Rogers, and we have a lot of mutual friends. I respect him personally, professionally and politically. We agree on a whole lot more issues than we disagree. Plus, I trust and respect the staff of the Homeland Security committee, who had the task to set up and prepare committee members for the hearing.

If the purpose of this hearing was simply to vent frustrations, then the hearing was a huge success, and Administrator John Pistole handled it with great patience, candor and respectful disagreement when the questions went too far afield. But as I reflect on what really happened, I am led to one conclusion: This hearing was just wrong – and it was wrong for many reasons and on so many different levels.

When I last checked, the opinion poll numbers on the reputation of Congress are even lower than they are for TSA… and yes, that is possible without getting into negative digits. To do its job, TSA must interact with more than 2 million airline passengers every day. Members of Congress, and their staff, interact with perhaps as many as 200 constituents on average (during the summer visitor’s season) per day. The size and scale of the difference is so obvious – yet instead of working to fix the image of Congress, which needs to also be “leaner and smarter” in the eyes of most Americans, it is apparently easier to lecture others on what they need to do. As someone who believes we can all find ways to improve, I know TSA and all of the dedicated folks at DHS are working to overcome the obstacles they face. Would that others were as diligent and disciplined in doing that also.


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