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Federal Coach: What It’s Like to Run the TSA

John S. Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration since July 2010, oversees the management of a workforce of 60,000; security operations at more than 450 U.S. airports; the Federal Air Marshal Service; and the security of highways, railroads, ports, mass transit systems and pipelines. As a national security and counterterrorism expert during his 26-year career at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pistole headed the agency’s expanded counterterrorism program after 9/11 and was named deputy director in 2004. He has worked on several high-profile investigations, including the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010; the attempted attack on Northwest Flight 253 by the so-called “underwear bomber” in 2009; and the plot against New York City subways that same year. This interview was conducted by Tom Fox, author of the Washington Post’s Federal Coach blog.

What management challenges do you face and what are you doing to overcome them?

One of the challenges I faced when I arrived was how to craft a vision for TSA that makes sense for people who have been taught they are here to make sure that 9/11 does not happen again, and to treat everyone the same during the screening process. It was a one-size-fits-all construct. I saw opportunities to redefine the agency’s work and look for ways to provide the most effective security in the most efficient manner by not focusing as much on those we know more about.

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