In a new pre-solicitation announcement, the TSA offered a glimpse into a potential future airport security process. One that will have some people cheering and others cringing: a grocery store styled security process where passengers would self screen.
In a pre-solicitation announcement entitled “Passenger Self Screening Systems for Aviation Checkpoint” (Opportunity ID: 70RSAT20RB00000002), the Transportation Security Administration (more specifically, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate) is giving potential respondents an opportunity to start thinking about technology solutions that would radically change the airport screening process.
After pouring through the govspeak there are some very intriguing nuggets of information that helps us understand how the airport security process could change. We’ve highlighted a few of them here.
This solicitation falls under the DHS’s Screening at Speed (SaS) program whose stated goals are:
“DHS S&T Screening at Speed (SaS) program pursues transformative research and development (R&D) activities that support a future vision for increasing aviation security effectiveness from curb to gate while dramatically reducing wait times and improving the passenger experience.“
This future solitication is a means to help enable that mission. Notably, they state:
“Just like self-checkout at grocery stores, self-tagging checked baggage, or ATM machines, many passengers prefer an experience that they can complete all by themselves, at their own pace.”
Some highlights of where they are seeking assistance in include:
- Completely self sufficient passenger screening process (implication: less TSO’s, less labor cost)
- Unify the screening of both passenger and property into one experience (instead of the two steps travelers undergo today)
- Share what they call “on-person” alarm information directly with the passenger in real time AND allow the passenger to self resolve the issue (implication: “Oh crap, left that 36oz of Thousand Island Dressing in my carry-on, let me toss it in the trash” and keep screening without intervention from a TSO)
They also indicate that by implementing such technologies they would improve the security posture of the airport and speed up the screening process.
One statement that is particularly telling highlights a perhaps unstated, but likely important aspect of the potential project:
“This effort seeks to rapidly develop a solution to detect weapons and organic threat items hidden on passengers without the same level of Transportation Security Officer (TSO) engagement normally present in the screening process.“
In other words, they want to reduce labor costs which is a common thing for most organizations. Typically, the single greatest expense to any organization is people. The TSA employs roughly 50,000 Transportation Security Officers, or TSOs. Cutting that number by any meaningful percentage would save significant tax dollars.
In their view, any such solution would be “deployed in conjunction with an X-ray system” providing a means for the passenger to be screened WHILE they “complete the divestiture process for inspection of their accessibly property.“
Fascinating stuff when you think about it. One of the great annoyances of travel is the screening process, although travel pros tend to have this nailed pretty well through the use of efficient packing techniques, frequent flyer lanes, services like TSA PreCheck or Clear not to mention highly tuned skills at picking faster security lines over slower ones.
Having seen and participated in the self check out process at grocery stores and hardware stores it can be a mixed bag. In general, it requires a person who is not a total technology dolt to pull it off, but when done right can be very fast. Until it’s not, then it sucks…
Here’s a few other interesting facts:
- Initially envisioned as targeted at the TSA PreCheck process
- This is not a formal solicitation – but rather an announcement for a potential solicitation
- The first phase will actually be the submission of white papers followed by a second phase that includes an actual solicitation
- Prospective bidders must submit a whitepaper to be eligible for the actual solicitation.
What say you? Is this a progressive move by the TSA? Are they thinking in the right direction? Or another big government debacle that will provide ample content for travel bloggers to bitch about in about 7 years from now when the project is 3 years behind schedule, way over budget and provides a horrible travel experience? Or will they totally nail it?
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