TSA bet a lot on PreCheck. On the one hand, it makes no sense to spread resources thin and screen everyone when not everyone represents the same kind of risk. On the other hand a system that says certain passengers are exempt from screening processes pre-identifies those people as able to bypass the screening system creating a risk. Of course most of those processes provide little security, and even if they did TSA fails to detect threats 90% – 95% of the time. So this debate is mostly moot.
Staffing levels for the agency, though, were set based on an assumption of hitting goals for signing passengers up for PreCheck and the agency has had difficulty hitting signup targets. They use private contractors for this, but one company was given a monopoly contract — Morpho Trust — and their procedures have severe limits on signup throughput.
As According to Airport Policy and Security News explains,
But because Morpho’s vetting method requires fingerprints that it submits to the FBI, applicants must appear in person, either at those airports where Morpho has set up a recruiting office, or at off-airport locations which in some cases are at seaports where the Department of Homeland Security sends people for other programs such as Global Entry fingerprinting and interviews.
TSA sought additional providers in 2016 to help expand PreCheck but Morpho Trust filed a bid protest (they were selected as one provider but not the sole provider) and then they sued. The agency gave up.
However Morpho’s sole source contract expires in September 2018. And TSA is re-opening competition for “what it calls Universal Enrollment Services (including PreCheck).”
Here’s what TSA is looking at:
[F]irms that were in competition for TSA’s previous third-party screening recruitment contracts proposed using big data algorithms to separate low-risk from high-risk people. In one procurement, would-be contractors actually used large sets of names provided by TSA, applied their algorithms, and sent the selected “eligible” names to TSA to check against its own databases and watch lists.
Morpho Trust is lobbying against the effort, insisting that its method of using biometrics should be the only permissible way to screen candidates for the program.
There’s currently a Senate bill that would allow TSA to use non-biometric methods that it certifies are just as effective. That would mean online application for PreCheck. However the corresponding House bill HR 2825 does not include this.