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Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Give us liberty (and, while you're at it, save us from death)!

Question: It's now obvious that Homeland Security officials misjudged the public reaction to new airport security measures. What should leaders do when confronted with widespread backlash against a decision they still believe to be sound and in which they have invested considerable money and reputation? Should the TSA try to weather the storm or plot a strategic retreat?

The following responses come from six of the fellows that make up the Coro Los Angeles 2011 class.

Sell it to me, TSA
As one of many who believes that the TSA's new airport security measures potentially go too far, I could perhaps be convinced otherwise through a thoughtful, articulate and fact-based explanation as to how the TSA came to its decision and why I should hop on board with the new policies. In short, the TSA should launch a public education campaign. Such an effort should be devoid of slick propaganda and clever slogans. Rather, I want statistics as well as evidence of nuanced thinking on the part of the decision-makers. How many potential threats does TSA believe it will thwart with this new policy and how did it arrive at these numbers? How, if at all, did a discussion of civil liberties and balancing individual rights against public safety play into the final policy? What additional training and/or background checks will TSA require of its airport screeners to ensure that my privacy is not unduly violated?

Explaining the rationale underlying a controversial measure and demonstrating balanced consideration in arriving at that policy might assuage at least some public opposition. However, if a public education strategy does not thereafter result in general public acceptance of the new policies (with "general acceptance" being an, admittedly, difficult thing to gauge), I would recommend that the TSA consider eliminating or mitigating some of the more controversial practices. --Katy Young


An Unexpected Resistance
The TSA has implemented more restrictive security measures in response to real public safety concerns, so retreating is not a viable option. But in order for the agency to successfully handle the understandable public backlash, it must develop a strategy for re-engaging legislators (such as those in New Jersey and Idaho, for example) who are publicly opposing the body scanners and pat-downs over concerns that these invasive screenings may not survive constitutional scrutiny. The TSA depends on its cachet as a federal law enforcement agency to prove that it has the public's best interest at heart, but this notion will be severely undercut should more elected officials publicly rebuke the new security measures. Given that the new scanners are only currently in 70 of the 450 airports in the US, there is also great potential for the current controversy to spread misinformation about the procedures among the American public, many of whom will not be exposed to them when they travel. Public support and explanations from their elected officials, however, might reassure Americans that the concerns highlighted in the media are being given the proper congressional oversight.

The TSA should have known better--the first step of implementing any policy of this magnitude should be to ensure that other governmental entities are on board. Trying to combat deep-seated concerns about governmental interference in a sensationalized media environment without support from elected officials has undermined the legitimacy of the TSA, and threatens the implementation of this new policy. --Elana Goldstein


Back off, government
The outrage after a TSA agent strip searched a young boy underscores a mindset--one which I share--that is too often neglected in the American political conversation: my safety is ultimately my responsibility. The government can't protect me every second of every day, nor do I want it to. Tighter regulations may weed out a few extra threats, but there is no substitute for a free people that maintains the power to stand up to tyranny. The underwear bomber was stopped by the courage of the passengers on that plane, rather than by bureaucratic regulations. Educating the people about those tighter regulations or shoring up support for those regulations in government doesn't change the fact that such regulations set us on a dangerous course towards eroding our instinct to stand up for ourselves against danger.

These TSA regulations tell people that they don't need to stand up for themselves. Instead we would do well to remember that we live in a democracy where we the people are sovereign, and taking responsibility for our lives is what self-governance demands. The public is right to shout "Don't touch my junk!" to these inane new regulations, and the TSA would do well to listen. --Patrick Atwater


Body scans and searches are a reasonable middle-ground
John Pistole, TSA Administrator, faces the responsibility of protecting America's transportation system while dealing with public backlash. On Saturday, Al Qaeda released the latest issue of Inspire, the group's English-language magazine. The publication gaudily boasts the success rate and cost effectiveness of the failed parcel bomb last month. Now, the TSA is troubled with a challenging dilemma: On the one hand, the agency is being asked by the public to change its security measures or allow alternative, minimally invasive measures, while on the other hand, from within that same public comes, potentially, the very threats that the TSA is working to prevent.

Our society expects to be protected and demands to be heard. This, however, puts the TSA in, potentially, an untenable position. While the immediate tactics of the TSA may be socially (and potentially, physically) uncomfortable and inconvenient, I do not believe anyone would have asked that security measures be reduced prior to 9/11, had it been known before that day that those procedures would have prevented such an attack.

If the leadership at the TSA or any national security agency sought to be loved rather than to be feared, how safe would you or I feel when a loved one takes a flight this holiday season? Regardless, a bit more tact and skillful use of public relations could be of benefit to any agenda. --Tim Golden


TSA: Get your act together
TSA believes that our safety is key to our freedom. More specifically, "TSA protects the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." Although the tighter regulations are receiving public disapproval, I do not believe that people are focusing on the correct issue. The key issue, in my mind, is not public safety but rather privacy violations that go so far as to constitute violations of our dignity as a free people. The outcry is in response to privacy violations, including enhanced pat-downs in public and invasive procedures--even including "safety measures" that resulted in a man's urostomy bag seal being broken and urine spilling everywhere--all in the name of supposedly ensuring that amorphous thing the TSA refers to as "public safety."

These and other isolated incidents, which are heightened by media attention, convey malicious, humiliating and downright awful search procedures. TSA should provide further training that focuses on customer-relation techniques, professionalism and providing an explanation of the procedures throughout the security screening process so as to avoid inflicting such great humiliation and discomfort in the security procedures. In addition, put up a screen behind which to do the pat-downs in order to impart some degree of privacy for travelers.

The TSA could stay on route with the increased regulations if they invest in better and more detailed training for the people that are administering the pat downs. My suggestion for leaders who are confronted with widespread backlash is to (1) ask probing questions, (2) identify the actual cause of the backlash, and (3) determine ways to address the issues in the most logical way. The answer is not to address the reaction, but prevent it in the first place by anticipating likely public relations concerns and addressing any such problems before they become just that. --Jessica Gray


An education on searches, with some help from TSA & Los Angeles' finest
I believe that Homeland Security officials should weather this storm, doing their best effort to educate the public as needed. This education became clear to me during a press conference I attended Monday morning at the grand opening of Los Angeles International Airport's (LAX) new Aircraft Rescue Firefighting Facility, featuring Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa, TSA/Federal Security Director of Los Angeles Randall Parsons, and Los Angeles Fire Chief Millage Peaks. These leaders introduced a few key facts worth mentioning that might better educate readers on this issue.

First, approximately 90,000 travelers circulate through airport security at LAX each day and only two people have ever opted out of security screening measures, inclusive of pat downs and machines. From this piece of evidence I conclude that the overwhelming majority of the public, at least those traveling through Los Angeles, will do what it takes in order to abide by the measures that are put in place by our security intelligence systems. Secondly, if there are any concerns about the radiation emitted from the machines, I offer the following statistic related at today's press conference: such radiation is equivalent to two minutes of time spent on an airplane--basically, radiation wise, it's worse for us to fly in a plane than go through the machine. Finally, LAX is the most widely traveled airport in the world and I, for one, believe that security of this level is vital to national safety. So again, I say weather this storm, Homeland Security. But be efficient and prepared in your implementation procedures, train your employees, and be responsible for educating the public through your local leaders that are supportive of the systems. As an avid air traveler, I'm proud to live in a country that values public safety by protecting people in the air and on land. --Corinne E. Tapia

By Coro Fellows

 |  November 23, 2010; 2:13 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Ethics , Failures , Government leadership , Leadership weaknesses , Making mistakes , Managing Crises , Organizational Culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: TSA's tone-deaf strategy | Next: TSA's right and responsibility

Comments

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Patwater makes a good point. The government cannot protect us every minute of everyday, and nor should it.

If anything, these regulations serve as a "deterrent" to potential terrorists. But really, wouldn't they just find another way to get the weapon on? So will TSA simply implement more restrictions as different methods are used to take down a plane? This is absurd. We need to put that money and invest it in some real innovative technology that will detect weaponry rather than put it to a security guard to get their feel on.

On top of that, political proponents of the restrictions openly admit that they themselves would not want to go through the pat down process. That is clearly an indicator that something is fishy about these regulations.

Posted by: skepticLA | November 30, 2010 2:54 PM
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If someone feels the need to have every man, woman, and child on an airplane searched, scanned, and molested so that they can feel safe getting on that airplane, they have serious issues and should not fly. Even without terrorism, flying in an airplane is inherently dangerous. Between weather and turbulence, the airlines cutting costs by skimping on maintenance, and the fact that most airplanes are designed with very small safety margins, flying is already unsafe.

Molestation and sexual assault are illegal because they cause serious emotional and psychological consequences to the victim. The good intentions of the assaulter are irrelevant to the crime. Threatening to fine someone who is willing to leave the airport to avoid molestation is coercion which is also illegal.

The TSA needs to stop catering to the ultraparanoid and start catering to those flyers who understand and accept the risks of flying in a post 9/11 world. They simply cannot succeed in preventing every threat and are setting themselves up for failure. Instead of making air travel safer, crimes against humanity are now committed daily in every TSA checkpoint, and the long security lines are a perfect target for terrorists. TSA checkpoints are without question the most unsafe place to be in the US.

Posted by: TM1234 | November 28, 2010 1:21 PM
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"I offer the following statistic related at today's press conference: such radiation is equivalent to two minutes of time spent on an airplane--basically, radiation wise, it's worse for us to fly in a plane than go through the machine.
"
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I'd sure like to know the source of that information. Was it the machine manufacturer (highly suspect), was it the airline industry (suspect), was it some extremist blog (more than suspect), was it from peer reviewed science (more likely believable)? What was it?

Posted by: cullisongs | November 24, 2010 12:33 PM
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Get serious! Nothing TSA is doing has anything to do with stopping terrorism! It is politics and money; BS and Money; creating petty bureacrats and money, avoiding responsibility and money; having power and money! With cockpit doors sealed, another 911 debacle can not occur; so the danger is less than before 911... so give up the stupidty already! Baaaaa!

Posted by: CHAOTICIAN101 | November 24, 2010 11:06 AM
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According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics from 1999-2009 the odds of being a terrorism victim in a flight is 1:10,408,947 or 0.00000000096%. Your odds of being struck by lightning are about 1:500,000 or 0.00000002%. Which means that you are 20.8 times more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to be harmed by a terrorism event.

The government is spending $42 Billion on the TSA each year (not including the economic costs of the TSA procedures). If the TSA is 100% successful then it will spend roughly $649,149,922 per person it saves per year (according to the same statistics).

Now, I don't know about you but it seems that the government could do a lot more with that money. If we included the economic costs, the government might well be spending over $1 Billion dollars per person it saves. $1 Billion dollars can do a lot more than save 1 life.

Posted by: theartistpoet | November 24, 2010 1:03 AM
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According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics from 1999-2009 the odds of being a terrorism victim in a flight is 1:10,408,947 or 0.00000000096%. Your odds of being struck by lightning are about 1:500,000 or 0.00000002%. Which means that you are 20.8 times more likely to get hit by lightning than you are to be harmed by a terrorism event.

The government is spending $42 Billion on the TSA each year (not including the economic costs of the TSA procedures). If the TSA is 100% successful then it will spend roughly $649,149,922 per person it saves per year (according to the same statistics).

Now, I don't know about you but it seems that the government could do a lot more with that money.

Posted by: theartistpoet | November 24, 2010 1:01 AM
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Do you want to know why only two of the 90,000 fliers opted out? It's because they paid hard-earned money for that ticket--likely before this policy was in place. Would you just walk away from a $500+ ticket and the ensuing vacation just because of a pat down? Most people probably wouldn't, but it's not because they agree with the policy. Had fliers known about the pat downs, many of them would have elected to drive or take the train or bus. Other countries don't use these policies. What is so inept about our system that it requires invasive and cro-magnon policies?

Posted by: eriu203 | November 23, 2010 4:47 PM
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I offer the following statistic related at today's press conference: such radiation is equivalent to two minutes of time spent on an airplane--basically, radiation wise, it's worse for us to fly in a plane than go through the machine.
======================================
You been had, Corinne.

They could have said that it takes several minutes for a doomed plane to fall from 30,000 ft. and (perversely) implied the opposite conclusion. The "radiation" is invisible, not "equivalent" by many measures of science.

Posted by: gannon_dick | November 23, 2010 3:27 PM
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The public wasn't made aware of the changes before hand because they knew what the uproar would be.

Also, it is obvious that they didn't give thought to the evidence, data, and statistics. The likelihood of a terrorist attack on a plane is still incredibly low. It would be far less than 1%.

Yes that info would've been nice, but that's not what they go by and they wouldn't have been able to convince anyone that nudey pics and crotch grabbing is necessary to keep Americans safe from the less than one half of one percent chance of a undie bomber.

Posted by: hebe1 | November 23, 2010 3:13 PM
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Corinne makes a valid point: more transparency in Homeland Security might have prevented such a backlash in the first place. Had the public known all of the data that went into this decision, and employees been better educated about expectations regarding privacy, perhaps the measures would have been better understood.

Posted by: TTR1 | November 23, 2010 11:49 AM
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