GAO praises security agency for results-oriented management strategy

The Transportation Security Administration is off to "an impressive start" at motivating its workforce to focus on achieving performance goals, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

The young agency has developed a strategy to help it reach concrete goals and keep managers invested in the process, the report (GAO-03-190) said. The strategic plan has allowed TSA to meet airline baggage screening deadlines and will serve the agency well as it makes the transition from the Transportation Department to the Department of Homeland Security, the report concluded.

The 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created TSA a little more than a year ago, requires the agency to implement results-oriented management practices to help meet its important aviation security responsibilities. In addition, solid management practices are necessary to help TSA protect maritime and ground transportation, GAO said.

To meet the act's requirements, TSA designed performance agreements for senior executives. These agreements demonstrate "leadership commitment to creating a results-oriented culture," GAO said. TSA holds senior executives accountable for failing to meet the goals outlined in agreements, and those performing below par will be awarded lower bonuses.

TSA executives have also helped devise broader, agency-wide goals in strategic plans. These plans include ways to measure success at reaching the goals, the report said. A new automated system will help senior executives and managers collect the data needed to measure progress.

The agency has also established standardized performance agreements for groups of lower-level employees with similar job descriptions, the report said. Agreements at both the executive and lower levels will serve as an interim management system, until the agency can come up with permanent goals and job requirements.

TSA has created a Web site to keep citizens informed on the status of its projects, including baggage screening initiatives, the report said. The agency has also developed surveys to track customer satisfaction and has taken some survey responses into account, eliminating procedures that irritate customers and do not necessarily enhance safety.

For instance, TSA now allows airline passengers to carry beverages in paper or foam cups through metal detectors and no longer requires screeners to ask passengers to take a sip from drinks or take a bite of food they plan to carry on the plane. TSA is also looking into "trusted passenger" programs that would allow frequent travelers with the proper identification to get through security screenings without waiting in long, inconvenient lines.

The GAO report included several recommendations on how TSA could build on its current success at creating a results-oriented culture. For instance, the report recommended that TSA continue to tailor performance agreements to specific jobs, including those not related to air safety, and should make sure to involve all levels of employees in the process of developing the agreements.

TSA should also designate an ombudsman to act as a liaison between the agency and public and make sure that all communications run smoothly, GAO said. The public relations department should continue to develop and refine ways to gauge customer satisfaction, the report added.

If TSA continues on its current track and improves on its management success, it will be better equipped to meet the "immense challenge" it faces, GAO concluded. TSA officials agreed with the report and its recommendations.

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