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Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney

Paul R. Portney is Dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, where he also holds the Halle Chair in Leadership.

TSA's right and responsibility

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?

TSA (which does NOT stand for "touching sensitive areas") has both the right and the responsibility to mandate more stringent searches if they feel our security is being threatened.

Their very obvious recent faux pas was not announcing quite publicly, in advance of the change, that the "pat-downs" would become more thorough. I went through security at the Kansas City airport the first day of the new policy and thought I might get a marriage proposal from the fellow from TSA who administered my search. Had I known that a change had been made, his examination would have been less alarming.

As for the full-body scans that seem to have alarmed so many, I'm all for them. They're faster than metal detectors and wanding and they apparently can reveal threats that otherwise might go undetected. As long as the radiation they emit is safe (and I assume it is), I'd like to see them at all airports. There's always the train or bus for those concerned about their privacy.

By Paul R. Portney

 |  November 23, 2010; 7:38 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Failures , Government leadership , Making mistakes , Managing Crises Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Give us liberty (and, while you're at it, save us from death)! | Next: Security isn't just a technical problem


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I agree with the commentor that said all they need to do is distort the image of the person in the scanner. I don't see why this is a problem. They say they are working on it as a second generation idea.

That will take years to implement. There were two guys that helped develop scanners who anticipated the public's response and told TSA they had software that would distort people so you could not identify private areas of a person. TSA did not listen and kept on the track the were going. These guys say they can install this software in 6 days. The TSA could easily test the software on machines. It should not take a year to test a scanner. They should be able to tell how well the software works using a good sample size.

This would take car of the forth amendment arguement which would mean more people in scanners and less searches (they really are more than pat downs).

Posted by: bhmike17 | November 29, 2010 11:23 AM
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Too bad even the TSA's own security advisers have come out against the virtual strip search as a useless tool.

Posted by: flonzy1 | November 29, 2010 11:11 AM
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Professor Portney is a Dean, and that explains a few things. Deans are always implementing "policy", even if it makes no sense. Actually from someone in academics, I had expected a more serious analysis than merely: "There's always the train or bus for those concerned about their privacy.". This is sucha stupid statement, parroting Janet Napolitano's idiodtic "You have a choice". Sorry, Professor, but sometimes we cannot take the train or bus: I frequently work in Europe or Japan, what would you want me to do? Basically, anybody on the active work force does not "have a choice". We have time and commitment constraints, and also personal obligations. Using the airplane as a mode of transportation is not a "privilege", it is a necessity, just as the telephone and e-mail.
I have a choice to avoid a restautant or business that doesn't treat me correctly, but I have no choice to avoid the TSA. Therefore, they do not feel obliged to treat their customers correctly.

As an add-on: During Thanksgiving travel, we only went through the metal detectors, althought the body scanners were right next to them. Obviously, the TSA and DHS had responded to the public outcry, and not enforced the new policy. I wonder how that will change during the weeks to come.

Posted by: flyer | November 29, 2010 10:51 AM
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As you so aptly point out, the TSA has failed miserably in marketing. It needs to communicate better with the flying public and it needs to do so badly. This hoopla probably could have been avoided if this agency understood the value of perception points. As this piece (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-perception-points/you-are-vulnerable-at-your-lowest-perception-point) points out, little changes can go a long way with customers … or passengers for that matter.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | November 27, 2010 3:35 PM
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SUMHAVESAID, the moron here is you. Please tell me why Israel is able to have terrorist free flights, yet they have no body scanners or "enhanced pat downs"?

Posted by: Voodoo_Idol | November 24, 2010 3:27 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 11:05 AM
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Yes, and here is the official response to that letter that GiorgioG refers to. http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/11/08/backscatter-back-story

Posted by: inmihumbleopinion | November 24, 2010 10:36 AM
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What is the difference between traveling on an airplane and going to a sporting event? Or for that matter, getting onto an airplane and getting onto a train, or a bus? There is arguably just as much "probable cause" for a terrorist event at a sporting event or through another means of transportation yet these other occurrences don't require pat-down searches or x-ray scanners. For that matter, getting into my own car doesn't require those either. What is the justification that one means of mass transportation deserves an undue amount of attention from the government and others do not?

This is a violation of my 4th Amendment Rights and it is wrong.

Posted by: theartistpoet | November 24, 2010 12:09 AM
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Wrong, wrong, wrong. TSA has no "right" whatsoever to violate the Fourth Amendment, in airports or anywhere else on American soil. As for Dean Portney's snarky comment that "[t]here's always the train or bus for those concerned about their privacy," forget it. By his logic, TSA has the right to search us there too and no doubt will seek to do so once terrorists start attacking trains or buses. Now is the time for those who value their constitutional rights to stand up for them and to defend them by all legal means: lawsuits, complaints to elected officials, and simple refusal to fly as long as the TSA continues to trample on travelers' rights.

Posted by: AdrianMole | November 23, 2010 7:43 PM
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I am not against the scanners because someone can see my naked body because of modesty or shyness. I am against them because it IS a strip search without probable cause. Just because the person who is "disrobing" me and inspecting my naked body is in a remote place does not change the fact that is IS a strip search. I have RIGHTS! I am an AMERICAN!

Posted by: mmartin622 | November 23, 2010 5:51 PM
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Take you pick, get molested, get "peeping-Tomed" or get blown out of the sky! Your choice! Quite frankly, a simple solution is possible with the scanner if the image is distorted so that the body shape/details are masked, but dangerous items will STILL be visible. Then all of you afraid of somebody seeing your "junk" or your obese flab or small ______ (you fill in the blank) can be apeased. Americans! What a bunch of maroons!

Posted by: SumHaveSaid | November 23, 2010 4:05 PM
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They are implementing them at train station too, so no there isn't always the train or the bus.

Is it just men who don't mind their groin being groped? Those are the only commenters I've come across that don't mind.

TSA has become a joke.

Posted by: hebe1 | November 23, 2010 3:07 PM
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I realize that Obama grew up in Indonesia, but somebody needs to get across to these people that this kind of search without "probable cause" is fundamentaly Unamerican.

Posted by: Ol_Ed | November 23, 2010 11:47 AM
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"As long as the radiation they emit is safe (and I assume it is)"

A Google search that turns up a letter sent last April from the University of California stating that these things may not be as safe as we're being told:


Posted by: GiorgioG | November 23, 2010 9:37 AM
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