A 10-year anniversary passed with little fanfare recently: the day the U.S. government assumed responsibility for airport screening after 9/11. I remember this day – April 29, 2002 – vividly. I was awake for its entire 24 hours and, with one other colleague, manned a checkpoint at the airport in Baltimore for the four-hour gap (midnight to 4AM) after the last contract screeners were let go and newly minted TSA officers took over. There were no flights during this time, but someone had to watch the checkpoint; our meticulous transition planning overlooked this detail.
Can you name America’s largest startup? It’s not Facebook or Amazon or even Home Depot. It isn’t even a technology company.
This little known giant is the Transportation Security Administration and its massive scale up offers a roadmap for entrepreneurs eager to turn big ideas into sustainable businesses.
The secret isn’t just a clear mission or a risk-taking culture, though both are important. For us, building an organization at breakneck speed – and returning a jittery public to the skies – meant rapid business model experimentation and imposing a strict methodology for measuring progress each step of the way.
The TSA was created 10 years ago this month following 9/11 and in its first 13 months processed a million job applications, interviewed 125,000 candidates, hired 60,000 people, purchased $1 billion of security equipment and set up security at 450 airports. All this was done under intense Congressional scrutiny – and not without a few hiccups. You can imagine what a shoe bomber does to your business plan three weeks after opening the doors.
Ten years ago Saturday, a far-reaching and convoluted bill was enacted. It created a new government agency that most Americans think is a big hassle, if not worse.
The Transportation Security Administration, born in the wake of 9/11, enters its second decade with a list of successes and shortcomings that we should examine. As the agency’s third employee, I worked at TSA for more than four years and continue to watch it closely. The story of its formation offers lessons for homeland security, and for other major policy challenges.
If public policy positions gain special currency when they make it to the New York Times op-ed page, TSA may finally acquire an aviation security capability the country is sorely missing. In a column filled with painful examples, Maureen Dowd makes clear that the nation’s current checkpoint practices are broken. Here’s how to fix them.
I spent five hours last Wednesday morning watching the main American Airlines checkpoint at its Chicago O’Hare hub, where three of out five lanes had body scanners in use.
Even though I left the TSA five years ago, my phone has been ringing off the hook the last several weeks.
“Why are we frisking little kids and grandparents?”
“Why don’t we profile?”
“Why can’t I be patted by a screener of the opposite sex?”
“Were they this dumb when you were there?”
While I’m not sure that last one is a compliment (and, yes, TSA is getting smarter every year), my answers to the first two are as follows: