TSA seeks business execs to help improve service at U.S. airports

WASHINGTON Wed May 7, 2014 12:49pm EDT

An airline passenger is patted down by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent after passing through a full-body scanner at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California February 20, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian

An airline passenger is patted down by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent after passing through a full-body scanner at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California February 20, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. security officials are turning to tourism and travel executives for help in improving something the Transportation Security Administration is not famous for - customer service.

The Department of Homeland Security said on Wednesday it is creating six positions as part of its "loaned executive" program to advise the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection on how to improve operations affecting travel and tourism.

Customer service, lines and crowd management, self-service technology, logistics and improved analysis of international passenger flows at airports are among the six areas that will be analyzed by the visiting executives, the department said.

The agency wants to twin its security mission with making air travel smoother on the ground so as not to deter travel that generates tourism dollars for the U.S. economy.

"I am thrilled DHS is collaborating with private sector businesses to attract talented professionals in the travel and tourism industry to help us continue our efforts of making America a more attractive and accessible destination," U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said in a statement.

The DHS advisory positions would be for six months with an option to extend. The executives would be on loan and their salaries paid by their employer.

The TSA has tried to ease traffic at airport security checkpoints in recent years with such measures as TSA PreCheck, an expedited screening program in which pre-approved airline travelers may leave on their shoes and outerwear while they go through security and do not have to remove their laptops or take out approved-sized liquids from carry-on bags.

The TSA has been plagued by complaints including intrusive screening, misconduct by agents and long lines at airports' security checkpoints.

A report by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office last July said complaints against airport security workers had jumped 26 percent in the previous three years. The complaints included the use of drugs and alcohol by TSA agents while on duty and inconsistent use of security equipment, such as X-ray machines.

An April survey by a travel industry organization was less bleak. The Travel Leaders Group said 87.5 percent of more than 2,700 consumers surveyed across the United States indicated they were satisfied with or neutral about airport security measures.

The survey, conducted from April 6-28, showed the percentage of travelers expressing dissatisfaction with the TSA was at its lowest since the group began asking the question in 2010.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by G Crosse, Bill Trott and Bernadette Baum)

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