Here We Go Again: Congress Calls For Re-Examination Of Registered Traveler's Role

The Transportation Security Administration last summer essentially washed its hands of the Registered Traveler program, saying it offered no real security benefit. If travelers wanted to pay for the benefit of getting to the front of security queues, fine, but other than the potential to provide a legitimate passenger identification process, RT wouldn't help secure the nation's aviation system, TSA insisted. That development frustrated many RT proponents, including the National Business Travel Association, but largely validated my views of the program. It was, I figured, the end of the debate as to whether RT would be used as a security tool. Hence my confusion as to why the folks at NBTA in the following months continued to press for a greater role for RT. Turns out NBTA's hope is not without reason. [more] A US House of Representatives subcommittee this month brought RT back into play by approving a provision in TSA's reauthorization that would require a reassessment of the program.

"We tried having that program for members but it has fallen on some hard times," said Rep. Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX), chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection during a May 6 mark-up hearing on the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act. "This amendment will give it an opportunity to be studied again."

Specifically, the amendment "would require the assistant secretary [of the Department of Homeland Security, also serving as TSA's administrator] to reassess the Registered Traveler program and under certain conditions reinstate continuous security assessments and allow Registered Traveler providers to perform private-sector background checks, meaning some people may be able to move quickly through the system," Jackson-Lee explained. "Upon restoring some of the critical security elements into the Registered Traveler program, the assistant secretary will determine whether the program should be integrated into TSA's aviation security approach."

Rep. Daniel Lungren (R-CA), who along with Jackson-Lee co-sponsored the amendment, said TSA of late has treated the Registered Traveler program as "merely a cut-to-the-front-of-the-line-for-a-price program. That is not what we envisioned. That is not what the Congress asked [TSA to develop]. Rather, we thought that they would allow people registering for this program to submit to further background checks than otherwise would be the case, and that would be an additional security benefit, thereby benefiting the overall program while benefiting the individual who submitted to that. For some reason, TSA has found it difficult if not impossible to embrace that concept that Congress asked them to embrace. The amendment will at least move them in that direction."

NBTA, of course, applauded the subcommittee's approval and "urges the full Homeland Security Committee to keep the RT amendment intact through the markup process and, in turn, passage by the full House."

Jackson-Lee and Lungren introduced the amendment after the Congressional Research Service issued a report questioning RT's value, according to a Travel Weekly article.

Evidently this debate isn't over.