In-Depth: Rep. John Katko (R-NY) introduced this bill to stop the TSA from diverting passengers who are not enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program into expedited screening lines. In his opening statement for a House Transportation and Protective Security Subcommittee meeting, “Assessing the TSA Checkpoint: The PreCheck Program and Airport Wait Times,” Rep. Kato stated:
“TSA has been granting PreCheck status to passengers who have not enrolled in the program in an effort to reduce congestion at checkpoints. I have repeatedly expressed to TSA that PreCheck should not be used to manage traffic, especially under the guise of risk-based security. In the near future, I will be introducing legislation to ensure that PreCheck lanes are available only to passengers enrolled in PreCheck or another trusted traveler program. PreCheck, when used as designed, is a valuable tool that enables TSA to assess a passenger’s risk to aviation security prior to their arrival at an airport checkpoint. By providing expedited screening to pre-vetted populations, TSA can direct additional TSOs to standard lanes to screen unknown travelers. PreCheck and other trusted traveler programs, when used as designed, are undoubtedly some of the best tools in TSA’s toolbox. However, despite TSA’s efforts to increase enrollment, participation in the PreCheck program has stagnated after reaching nearly 6 million travelers. Undoubtedly, many passengers are frustrated by TSA’s frivolous practice of merging non-enrolled travelers into PreCheck screening lanes and disappointed in the limited availability of PreCheck lanes at many airports.”
According to Politico, Rep. Katko has used his position as chairman of the Homeland Security transportation subcommittee to “repeatedly blast TSA officials for the agency’s continued practice of allowing non-PreCheck enrollees into those lines.”
TSA officials contend that they already provide numerous levels of security in an airport, some of which are visible, and others of which are not visible. When there are long lines for standard screening at TSA checkpoints, passengers who have been sniffed by an explosives-detection dog can move to the PreCheck lane, where they leave on shoes and coats, and leave laptops and small containers of fluids in their carry-on bags. Stacy Fitzmaurice, TSA deputy assistant administrator for security operations, argues that this is effective and efficient: “We also have additional screening measures that we can apply, the use of canines being an example. We believe that that is one of the more effective screening methods.”
Airports Council International (ACI-NA) is opposed to this bill due to its concern that this bill would have operational impacts on airports. Due to its concerns, ACI-NA secured two changes to this bill, which are reflected in its current version: (1) ensuring travelers under 12 or over 75 can continue accessing PreCheck lanes when traveling on the same itinerary as a PreCheck member, and (2) requiring TSA to pilot risk-modified screening lanes before they are universally employed.
Airlines for America and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport oppose this bill. Wendy Reiter, Director of Airport Security for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, spoke on behalf of her airport at a House Congressional hearing on TSA PreCheck, and stated her airport’s opposition to this bill. Ms. Reiter contended that the risks of long lines outweigh the risks of allowing people into the TSA PreCheck line after they are cleared by bomb-sniffing dogs:
“TSA PreCheck is an important threat reduction program, but we believe strongly that the bigger threat to airport and passenger security is long wait times that create soft targets for those that seek to inflict harm and terror on our facilities. Reducing the throughput benefits of canines would increase wait times at general screening lanes exponentially, erasing any security gains from incentivizing PreCheck enrollment.”
This legislation passed the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously and currently has the support of three cosponsors,, including two Democrats and one Republican. The Global Business Travel Association and U.S. Travel Association support this bill.
Of Note: The move to allowing passengers who had been cleared by bomb-sniffing dogs to go into PreCheck lines occurred in the spring of 2016, when a confluence of fewer screeners, tighter security, and heightened summer travel combined to form hours-long lines at airports across the country. At that time, the shift to allowing passengers who had been cleared by explosives-sniffing canines to enter PreCheck lines rescued TSA from a crisis due to traveler complaints.
However, since 2016, complaints about this new policy have been twofold, with concerns about convenience and security being raised by Congress and travelers. Critics point out that PreCheck participants are given less scrutiny at airports because they have already given the TSA biographical information, undergone criminal background checks, and paid $85 for their five-year enrollments in the program — whereas individuals who are sent from the regular screening line to the PreCheck line after being cleared by canines have completed none of these prerequisites. To critics, this is a potential security concern.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStock.com / David Tran)