Is anyone going to listen to the TSA’s advisory committee?

The TSA has frequently seemed impervious to criticism. The public outcry over whole body imaging and intimate physical patdowns was initially met with stonewalling, as TSA Administrator John Pistole flatly told the Senate, “If you are asking me, am I going to change my policies? No.”

Later on, minor adjustments, such as reducing patdowns of children and replacing graphic nude images with gingerbread shapes on some scanners, were implemented. Those adjustments were made only after long months of headlines about public opposition to the TSA’s new procedures.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit cited the TSA’s failure to comply with its legal obligation to hold a public notice and comment period on its body scanner program, writing that, “Indeed, few if any regulatory procedures impose directly and significantly upon so many members of the public. Not surprisingly, therefore, much public concern and media coverage have been focused upon issues of privacy, safety, and efficacy, each of which no doubt would have been the subject of many comments had the TSA seen fit to solicit comments upon a proposal to use AIT for primary screening.”

Since then, the TSA has made no statement about the ruling or about when it intends to hold the Public Notice and Comment Period as the Court of Appeals has ordered.

The agency has, however, recently announced the formation of an Aviation Security Advisory Committee. The Committee is supposed to provide advice and make recommendations on matters affecting civil aviation security through the TSA Administrator to the Secretary of Homeland Security. In other words, the Committee is purely advisory; the TSA isn’t obligated to take its advice or to implement any of its recommendations.

It’s too early to determine whether the Council will actually have any influence on TSA policy. The 27-member panel is composed primarily of airline industry representatives.

This newly constituted Aviation Security Advisory Council will hold a teleconference that’s open to input from the public. The call is scheduled for 1 to 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 15. People who want to participate should contact Dean Walter, Aviation Security Avisory Council’s Designated Federal Officer at the TSA, at [email protected], (571) 227-2645.

The last half-hour of the meeting will include (time permitting) oral statements of no more than two minutes from members of the public. Written statements can also be submitted.

Watch this space next week for a report on the content of the meeting.

(Photo: Truth out/Flickr)