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Slade Gorton
Political leader

Slade Gorton

A former U.S. Senator and Washington State Attorney General, Slade Gorton served on the 9/11 Commission.

A problem of political correctness

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 mistake is not so much in the technology, which is seemingly effective, as it is in the rigid political correctness that all travelers be treated as equally threatening. Intelligent profiling as a major factor in determining the thoroughness of appropriate screening, together with allowing more use of judgment on the part of TSA personnel and a system by which frequent fliers could bypass most screening, would not only save countless hours and remove most objections, but it could be equally effective and far less costly.

By Slade Gorton

 |  November 22, 2010; 2:14 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , 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: Avoid backlash in the first place | Next: Not the time to backtrack

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This is just ridiculous. It demonstrates the failure of leadership to understand statistical modelling. Profiling allows for bias to enter into your sampling. One assumes that a terrorist looks, acts, and is from a particular place. If that profile is wrong, then you're got problems. So, rather than assume that we know absolutely what a terrorist looks/acts like, TSA randomize their searches. All travelers are pooled into the sampled population. It is this randomization that allows little old ladies and US politicians to be pulled aside for additional screening.

Judgment is great, provided it doesn't allow for error.

As for the commentator above talking about insurance. Segmenting the population by age for differential rates in insurance is an entirely different exercise that trying to winnow out potential terrorists. Or, more appropriately, make acts of terrorism difficult to plan.

Then again, this is the problem with "leaders". One class in statistics and they're giants of research methodology. Giants in their own mind, that is.

Posted by: 44fx2901 | November 24, 2010 10:36 AM
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Well said.

Profiling already exists in this country: just look at auto insurance rates. Males are statistically more likely than females to cause car accidents, thus males are charged higher premiums. Similarly, married people and people over age 25 are statistically less likely to cause car accidents than non-married, under age 25 people, thus non-married people and people under age 25 are charged higher premiums. Furthermore, state insurance regulators must approve these rates, and because most states require drivers to have auto insurance, the government is actually sanctioning/mandating this type of profiling.

Now let’s return to the matter at hand: terrorism. Statistically speaking, what is the most likely demographic of a terrorist? The answer is a young, adult, Muslim male of middle-eastern decent. Does that mean all previous - or future - terrorists fit that profile? Of course not - just like not all car accidents are caused by young unmarried males. But just as the statistical data clearly shows that young unmarried males are the riskiest type of driver, young Muslim males of middle-eastern decent are the most risky type of traveler. Until the statistical data says otherwise, we would be fools not to use that information to our advantage, especially since profiling has long been an accepted practice in other areas of our lives - a.k.a. insurance rates.

Posted by: dfl1 | November 23, 2010 12:42 PM
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