In a New York Times story today, Sec. Chertoff indicates plans to shift the responsibilities of TSA’s screener workforce:
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Sunday that he intended to replace contractors who inspect passenger identification at airport checkpoints with staff members from the Transportation Security Administration, a move that would be one of the biggest expansions of the agencyâ€™s tasks since it was set up in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
….Details of the plan to replace the contractors were still being worked out. But Mr. Chertoff said the transportation agency screeners would be trained in psychological profiling under the plan, which he intends to announce in the coming weeks or months.
Currently, the contractors who handle the precheckpoint processing of identification documents are hired by airlines. Transportation agency screeners, in addition to handling checkpoint security, also do the simple, labor-intensive task of picking up checked-in bags and placing them into scanning machines before they are loaded onto planes.
Under the plan, contractors would take over the manual labor of handling the checked bags, although federal screeners would continue to interpret images for possible threats. But the switch would free up enough screeners to do the identity checks and behavior analyses of passengers waiting to go through security.
This would be a good move by DHS, given the importance of the ID check in the system, and because it would allow direct use of behavioral screening techniques by the TSA workforce. One open question is how this would impact on airports’ ability to create streamlined lanes for first-class flyers and premier mileage plan members. If the federal area of control is extended out to the screening line, then presumably there should be a single line (or set of lines) for everyone, consistent with the principle that all flyers are paying the same aviation surcharge on their tickets. Airlines wouldn’t be happy about this, but it seems like this should be the logical consequence of this decision.