Is The TSA’s New Passenger Advocate Role A Good Thing?

On the 13th of February 2012 Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the Restoring Integrity and Good-Heartedness in Traveler Screening Act, or “RIGHTS Act,” addressing the need for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to have a passenger advocate on site, at every airport, to address immediate passenger screening issues.  The RIGHTS Act was introduced in response to an increasing number of incidents involving passengers who believe their rights have been violated, screening policy and protocol was not properly followed, issues where elderly or disabled passengers have been improperly handed, as well other passenger issues.


In introducing the RIGHTS Act Sen. Schumer stated “Since the TSA Won’t Voluntarily Put in Place Passenger Advocates, We’ll Mandate They Do.” Under the RIGHTS Act, the TSA was to establish the Office for Passenger Support, Require a TSA Passenger Advocate be on duty at all times, the agency place visible signage at all checkpoints and gates advising traveling that an Advocate is available, real-time complaint resolution be implemented and that advance notification for passengers with disabilities or medical conditions be pre-arranged for expedited screening that allows for proper screening without causing hardship for the passenger in need of special screening.


Following the legislation introduced by Senators Schumer and Collins the TSA has created a new in airport job position, which was recently supported by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and approved by the TSA’s Office of Security Operations. The new passenger facing position is the Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) Position, which will soon be recruited, trained and deployed into every airport in the United States.


The role of the PSS will requires the acting Officer convey the TSA’s standard operating procedures to the passenger in need of assistance and clearly explain what that means in any given particular situation.  The PSS will act as the primary point of contact for resolving passenger related screening complaints quickly, on site, and enhance the passengers experience with the agency … additionally the PSS on duty must respond to passenger requests for assistance within five minutes.


Training for the PSS position will initially be 10 hours, with recurrent 1-to-2 hour sessions. Training for the role of PSS will address understanding the basics of customer service, the individual needs of passengers with disabilities, Civil Rights and enhancing the TSA’s public image.  The course work for those undertaking the PSS role will have a heavy emphasis on conflict resolution, sensitivity to passengers wit special needs and effective communications.


When the Passenger Support Specialist position is opened within the agency  all Transportation Security Officers (TSO), at all ranks, within the TSA will be eligible to apply, although Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) will require a special approval from the agency’s headquarters.


On one hand, the TSA is to be commended for creating the Passenger Support Specialist position in a timely manner, on the other hand there are a number of issues with this new passenger facing role that will soon be staffed, trained and deployed.


The first main issue with the PSS training and role is that all TSA Transportation Security Officers should understand the needs of not only passengers with disabilities, but all travelers. Should the TSA need to create specialized training to address Civil Rights, the laws of the United States and how they pertain to the agency? Conflict resolution and enhancing the agency’s image should be a basic requirement to be in a front line passenger facing role when TSOs finish their initial 10 days of training and 70-hours of on the job training in the field.


The second issue with the creation of the PSS position is this … should the TSA recruit internally for a role dedicated to handling passenger complaints and conflict resolution directly related to a passenger’s experience with fellow TSOs?  Can a TSO acting as the PSS be impartial when resolving a complaint and take action against a colleague within their own ranks?  A Transportation Security Officer acting as a PSS would have little authority to override a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (STSO) should they determine the STSO acted improperly or violated a passenger’s rights. There is far to much room for conflicts of interest to rise, making the PSS role designed to fail from the outset.


The third issue, a red flag that the TSA’s PSS role will likely not be effective as a passenger advocate, is that virtually none of the language in the TSA’s internal job description deals with advocacy, aside from the PSS being onsite to  “ensure security screening is correctly implemented and problems resolved consistent with TSA policy,” which is already the job of Supervisory Transportation Security Officers (STSO) and those above them. Having  “the ability to take SOP requirements and convey to a passenger what that means for their particular situation” is not advocating for passengers when a conflict arises, it is playing semantics to ensure that a passenger believes the TSA handled a situation properly, even if they did not.


Effective oversight of the TSA, especially on-site at the airport, addressing real-time passenger concerns, should be handled by those who do not answer to the TSA. Those charged with addressing TSA complaints and passenger conflict must be impartial, understanding both the needs of passengers and the TSA, with the ability to rectify the situation without fear of internal retribution.


The TSA deploying passenger advocates who are not truly capable of completely acting as passenger advocates is not only a waste of financial and human resources, it does not improve the agency and has significant potential to further damage the agency’s image.   What is needed are true advocates who ultimately improve the passenger experience, which no only potentially improves the TSA’s image but also improves a passenger’s airport and airline experience.


Happy Flying!




  1. A passenger advocate is dearly needed, available to respond to checkpoint issues at a moments notice. However that person should in no way be beholding to the thuggish TSA agency. I think a stronger program would have the advocate working for the airport/airlines.

  2. What a waste. Why don’t they just give all their idiot employees the extra 10 hours training? Or better yet hire better people to begin with and actually train them. I also don’t see it being used because of time constraints. Most people will just grin and bear it and then file a formal
    Complaint later rather than miss a flight.

  3. You buried the lede Steve. Sadly it doesn’t appear until your final graf. The answer is indeed a resounding “no.” Asking this wasteful, poorly educated, deviant agency and its sociopathic boss John Pistole to police itself in any way — particularly in the complex areas of passenger medical needs, medical equipment, surgical scars, prosthetics, dignity, care, and so on — would be like asking Charles Manson to watch the jail.
    If Steven, you are indeed the “globe-hopping photog” you say you are, then act like it. Act like a person with some journalistic background. You’ve seen the abuse. You have seen the idiocy. You know that folks who barely made it out of high school have no business “securing” anything, let alone operating potentially lethal x-ray equipment, fondling (and potentially injuring) tender scar tissue and sticking their hands down our pants. Yes, that has happened to me.
    You know the answers. You have the column and the public’s attention. Use it to create some change – not to pussyfoot around for 12 paragraphs saying what is obvious to anyone with a brain who has been in an American airport recently. You can do it!

  4. The point of my post on the TSA’s new “passenger advocate” position is far from buried.

    The only way to determine of conclusion is by understanding the history, driver behind the position and how the position is to be implemented.

    Happy Flying!


  5. There is always room for history in any piece or column, but it is not the only way to determine anything.
    When history is needed in an opinion piece, it is typically more impactful to state your position, and then back it up – not the other way around.
    You know the truth. Just say it. Then support it.
    I realize you also consult for airlines, which is essentially a conflict if one is to be an unbiased reporter on this topic. But even so, we do the airlines no favor when we don’t tell them straight out that criminalizing their customers and running them through a gauntlet of abuse before they can even partake in the “product,” is not an effective business model.
    In the end, your chief assets will always be your insight and integrity. Don’t worry about being nice. Just be fair.

  6. Even by the standards of internet comments, this is ridiculous. This blog has arguably done more to keep the TSA accountable than any other single media source. This post makes a measured case as to why the new system won’t work. To me, the balanced and fact-based style of the writing makes the very effectively.

  7. A nice idea, I guess. I’m not convinced that TSA has the balls, brains or even the desire to make this program work as intended. If TSA hires internally, they are doomed to failure; if the hire externally, the folks will need far more training. As much as I would like to see this badly needed program work, I ‘m not holding my breath.

  8. @Adam S. – If anyone or anything is keeping TSA accountable (mainstream media certainly isn’t) – it is these people here:
    -All the rest – particularly travel sites that understandably rely on sector advertising – offer varying levels of acknowledging that TSA is a problem, and that’s about it.

  9. This bill never passed. Instead, the TSA is creating a position that is like having a rapist assistant available to explain the proper implementation of the crime to the victim.

    The TSA performs illegal searches, they ABSOLUTELY PERFORM Criminal, unwanted touching of genitals, buttocks, and female breasts, and NO explanation or excuse is needed to justify their illegal actions. Period.

    What’s next by lackluster legislators like Schumer -the Very Ineffective Criminality Helps You Bill (VICHY Bill)? This way victims can support their attackers just like a certain country had treasonous people supporting the Nazis.

    Disgusting that this unneeded, offensive, and wasteful position is even considered. Of course, I expect nothing less from the most anti-American agency of our Federal Government.

  10. Anon,

    First off TSANewsBlog has advertising

    Secondly, TheTSANewsBlog tends to be one sided. I know and respect one if the principal journalists at the blog, but overall the content is one sided

    Third, My coverage of the TSA has been consistent since the day the agency was created. I go after the agency and when need be defend the agency. I have strong opinions and they are based on significant in death research and interactions with the agency.

    This post on the new PSS position comes from not yet released internal memos on the new role. Prior to this I have released a number of security directives, including some before they were even released internally, written about the failures of air cargo security months before two bombs ended up as cargo enroute the US, I have been detained in an airport by the TSA Office of Law Enforcement and had two TSA Special Agents from the Office of Law Enforcement visit my house three tiles in two days regarding my coverage of the agency , as well as obtaining evidence the agency had been on my email without a warrant.

    So when I say I believe in being neutral no matter what , I meant it.

    Happy Flying!


  11. Jeff,

    The RIGHTS Act never passed but is politically alive, which caused this position to be created.

    Ultimately the agency needs to answer to someone and stay within the definition of “administrative search” as to not violate the 4th Amendment

    The agency also need transparency as well as to clearly define under what authority they can perform enhanced pat downs without probable cause … if there is criminal probably cause the search needs to handled by law enforcement

    Happy Flying!


  12. The very term “administrative search” – though somehow “legal” – violates the 4th Amendment. There is no defending any of it.
    Sadly, there really aren’t various “sides.” This is a criminal agency.

  13. Anon,

    You are terribly misinformed. Search this site for the 4th Amendment, I’ve broken out the legality of airport searches and have posted commentary from DHS lawyers regarding TSA VIPR Teams as the 4th Amendment, it might be good reading for you.

    Happy Flying!


  14. Not speaking for Anon, but I also feel these so-called “administrative searches” violate the 4th Amendment. Now, I understand the courts have not agreed with me based upon the current crop opinions and rulings, but I believe if the US doesn’t fall further into a spiral of FEAR!, the courts will eventually reverse these decisions, and perhaps our descendants will shake their heads in wonderment that Americans allowed themselves and their visitors from other countries to be treated so poorly.

  15. Fish, the “administrative search doctrine” has been created in the courts over time. Unfortunately, over time the courts have completely bypassed the intent of the 4th amendment. Even in cases like Camara – which the government lost because the court said there should have been an administrative warrant obtained – the ultimate lawful resolution has been to adjudicate in a court of law. I would refer people to google “Eve Primus” for a great background on 4th amendment law, and her conclusions on why the courts have completely eviscerated the 4th amendment. There is no balance between the intent of the 4th amendment and government claims anymore. The courts have taken away our freedoms by weakening the 4th amendment with unbalanced analysis.

    Unlike metal detectors, scanners represent a completely different set of circumstances and should require a review. We know the D.C. Circuit has already ruled the TSA violated administrative laws regarding public comment. To this day, they are well over a year past that ruling and have done nothing, despite their current plans to maybe address this sometime next year.

    The circumstances are very different from metal detectors in 3 important ways, all of which should be tried in a court of law – once we find one willing to actually let people have a real trial with discovery and facts from others than just the TSA. The 3 important differences are :

    – Scanners (both AIT nude images and ATR with false-positive generating software) represent a complete inch-by-inch search of one’s body, no matter how convenient, and this type of search is absolutely the most intrusive search ever attempted without a warrant by the government in the entire history of the United States. For example, the Supreme Court ruled this year that police cannot measure thermal radiation levels of one’s house IF the data gathered could only be obtained by a physical search. See the parallel? Not to mention that the 4th amendment talks about your “person” first, and everything else afterwards. Our persons demand the same protection as our houses, if not more.

    – Metal detectors actually test for something specific. They conform in some respects to the 4th amendment in terms of describing what is to be looked for, and they use physics to find metal, which is closely associated with guns. The scanners do nothing to detect metal or explosive chemicals…all they do is strip one electronically without any specific search for these items.

    – Most importantly, for those who accept the made-up concept of a “balancing test” to measure reasonableness, the more intrusive the search then the more commensurate the results should be.
    For metal detectors, I can clearly show a decrease in hijackings when metal detectors were used in 100% of the airports. Yes, I have the statistics and hijackings went from maybe 4 a month to near-zero a month in the US.
    Scanners, since they were introduced, have done ZERO to reduce the instances of suicidal airline passengers with working non-metallic bombs…the specific reason mentioned by the TSA for their use. There has been NO REDUCTION in attempts in the US. Strangely, that might be because we had 0 fatalities from this type of vulnerability for the prior 48 years.

    Unless the TSA starts “raising the dead”, the scanners won’t improve on previous measured historical trends.

    Finally, I leave all with the fact that in a Congressional report from Sept 20, 2012, it was highlighted that the TSA plans to NOT deploy the illegal scanners at 100% coverage. Therefore, this defeats the purpose…assuming one thinks they are valid and work (of course, I don’t). Would anyone have accepted metal detectors deployed at 50% of security lines when there were hijackings? No, of course not.

    But then again, metal detectors worked against something which actually happened in the US.

  16. Fish – I guess I’ll just have to remain “terribly misinformed.”
    You can cover this topic any way you’d like, but to say that the term “administrative search” does not violate the spirit of the Constitution, let alone the Constitution itself, is to ignore what has been plainly in front of us all for years. Simply because a group of lawyers figured out years ago how to circumvent the 4th Amendment, does not make it righteous, or something that Americans should blindly accept.
    If you and others are morally supportive of it, that is your right. If you support it thinking it somehow facilitates travel, tourism, commerce – we can only try and alert you to the dangerous precedents this has set – unlikely ever to be rescinded.

  17. I love it. They are encouraging the TSO’s who normally violate the Constitutional Rights of passengers to handle complaints from said passengers. Brilliant.

    This is going to be a complete failure in every way if the PSS is in any way related to the TSA.

    It’s like having a cop handle a complaint against another cop. Yeah, right. What a joke.

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