The TSA’s ‘managed inclusion’ is over, but we’re not done asking questions

Remember the early days of Precheck, when the TSA would let random passengers skip the long line and enjoy a more civil screening?

Well, I have some bad news: Those days are over. The TSA is quietly phasing out its program of managed inclusion.

Managed inclusion, you’ll recall, allowed agents to conduct “real-time threat assessments” (giving you a quick glance), and allowed you to use expedited airport security lanes typically reserved for vetted TSA Precheck passengers. Several Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports reveal the program is less than effective.

But passengers are still asking questions, and they’re the kind of questions that call the TSA’s entire security cabaret into question.

Mark Lipsman experienced the song and dance several times when he flew.

“I haven’t joined Precheck,” he says. “I asked a TSA agent why they were letting me use the Precheck line, and he said it was basically a free sample.”

That doesn’t sit well with him.

“If they trust us enough to let us through once, why don’t they do it permanently, without our having to join the program?” he asks. “And why do they charge $85 to join, when it requires practically no overhead and makes it easier for everyone?”

Those are excellent questions, and so far the TSA hasn’t really answered them to anyone’s satisfaction.

So let’s take them one at a time.

If they trust us once, why not all the time? That was the issue with “managed” inclusion, which allowed TSA employees to eyeball you for suspicious behavior. What’s suspicious? A five-o’clock shadow? A hijab? A grimace? Who knows? But we do know that it worked, in the sense that there was no 9/11 repeat.

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Here’s what the TSA probably should have done: Instead of ending managed inclusion, it should have expanded it. Instead of whittling down the pool of harmless passengers into a few who pose a risk, the TSA should turn the equation on its head, working to identify the dangerous passengers from among the rest, and giving them the additional screening.

Managed inclusion showed us that all the flimflam with body scanners and pat-downs was essentially meaningless. A TSA employee can just look at us and tell if we’re going to be trouble. Or something like that.

Why do they charge $85 to join? Another great question. Airport security is funded by taxes and by fees in our tickets. And you want us to pay more? Sounds like yet another junk fee. That makes no sense. While it’s true that Precheck isn’t free, in the sense that it costs the government money to run it, it’s also true that we fund the government with our taxes.

This two-tiered system is fundamentally un-American. We already have a caste system on the plane, where the “haves” have too much and the “have-nots” are served table scraps. I’ll spend the rest of my career fighting for the folks in the back of the plane to have a little dignity. But being separated into classes by our own government — a government that claims to value equal rights and dignity — is troublesome.

Pulling back on managed inclusion doesn’t answer these questions or solve these problems. For people like Lipsman, it just ratchets up the annoyance at an agency that hides behind bureaucracy and double-speak.

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All air travelers deserve better.

Was the TSA's "managed inclusion" program a scam?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Nancy Nally

    When I signed up for PreCheck, it was done at a private contractor, a company that runs background checks and provides other services. So that service DOES cost money. Either I have to pay them through a fee or the government has to write them a check. Yes, I pay for security with taxes. But if you add services that cost money, you need more money to fund them. Which means either raising taxes or charging fees. We pay taxes to the government and still pay user fees for a lot of things – like passport fees, for instance. A lot of government services are funded by user fees.

  • Éamon deValera

    The article notes that managed inclusion was about equal to chance at detecting nefarious travelers. Amazingly that is better than when everyone is screened as the TSA misses more than 80% of the test bombs their inspector general puts through.

  • backprop

    It was a scam in the sense that:

    — allowed agents to conduct “real-time threat assessments” (giving you a quick glance) —

    could not possibly be done with any degree of accuracy by the TSA agents.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The TSA was cobbled together out of thin air. Its ranks were stuffed by and large with the slow, shiftless dregs of society who somehow managed to remain unemployed during the bright economic days leading up to 9/11/2001 and were therefore available to fill these new positions by the thousands.

    They are not bad people. But you can’t magic together a highly trained, highly capable security force out of, essentially, nothing.
    As a result, TSA agents could not by definition consist of those at the top of their game in security, threat assessment, or similar.

    At best, managed inclusion simply injected an element of randomness into the process. A potential threat would have to contend with that possibility (much like the red light/green light customs search in some countries) and it can be pretty effective.

    But as soon as you inject the human element – and I contend that a TSA agent is less effective than random chance because of inherent biases and lack of actual training – then it is of questionable value.

    And that said, it made it frustrating for those who have been through a more thorough process, like Global Entry, to see scores of people jamming up the PreCheck line with no idea how it worked, turning it into just another screening line and offering no benefit.

    I say good riddance to managed inclusion.

  • Annie M

    As someone who has paid for Global Entry and gone through the screening process, I can’t tell you how this “managed inclusion” angered me. I paid for it and had to be held up by people who didn’t because someone looked at them and decided they didn’t seem a threat.

    But again – from reports that keep coming up about items people have gotten through security even with TSA screening, this whole system seems to be a joke.

  • JCL

    Anything to do with the TSA has been a scam (in the real definition of that word).

  • tio2girl

    Even worse when people are randomly shuffled into a precheck line without being told that’s what’s happening. Yes, they slow the rest down because they don’t know what to do…haven’t even been told that they don’t have to do all of the normal things. (BTDT when the whole fam was shuffled from a normal line into what we thought was just another normal line opening up to handle the crowd. Hello…a little communication is a good thing, TSA!)

  • tio2girl

    Increasing managed inclusion would also likely increase racial and cultural profiling in the screening process. One can argue for or against the effectiveness of that, but for an American citizen constantly facing that profiling while traveling, it’s got to suck.

  • Regina Litman

    Uh, oh, another Internet/ttexting abbreviation I’ve never seen before. Somebody please spell out BTDT for me. Please spell it out in your reply. Please do not tell me to Google it, and please don’t supply me to a link to a dictionary of such terms. Just in case anyone else is wondering the same thing, it would be great to have it in the same place.

    Thanks in advance (never TIA when I’m doing the typing).

  • Grant Ritchie

    Why not Google it? That’s what I did to find out for you… “Been there, done that.”

  • cscasi

    I think the “system” is only as good as the equipment, personnel and quality of training given those personnel. However, it does appear that most things run by the government do not function as well as people would like; especially since it is our tax dollars that are funding them. Having said that, the contracted security we used to have at airports were not all that great either.

  • Michael__K

    Airport security is funded by taxes and by fees in our tickets.

    Amazingly, even after the Passenger Security Fee was recently doubled, passengers and air carriers still pay for only about two-thirds of the costs of aviation security. General taxpayers cover the rest.

    There’s a good case to be made that we shouldn’t be spending $7+ billion on aviation security in the first place. But to the extent we decide to continue to spend that much, maybe the taxes and fees on our tickets are lower than they should be…

  • Bill___A

    Global Entry and Nexus passengers went through a screening process, so I can understand them going into something like a TSA “Pre” program. However the managed inclusion program was certainly not anything that made sense. It wasn’t an “elites vs. non elites” thing, it was, in my mind “background checked vs. not background checked”. The normal screening is too intense and the TSA Pre screening is “too light”. But when they have things like managed inclusion, that tells me they are not thinking straight.

  • Obi Won Kanobi

    Do the people that paid for it get a refund?

  • Susan Richart

    However, it’s apparently NOT over:

    “David Castelveter, Deputy Assistant Administrator of TSA’s Office of
    Strategic Communications & Public Affairs, called TMR to share that TSA will be rolling out Managed Inclusion III, a version of the program that will use canines to screen some travelers and allow them into the PreCheck lines.”

  • TestJeff Pierce

    THE ANSWER is that “bad passengers” are about non-existent. There is no statistical difference in threat risk between PreCheck and non-PreCheck passengers.

    What they should do is make all American citizens pre-check – which is JUST THE 2002 SECURITY no one complained about. They should leave shoes on, allow reasonable liquids, allow “pointy objects”, and only use metal detectors for primary screening.

    They should stop criminally touching the crotches of those with medical issues too.

  • Alan Gore

    I would prefer to see Pre-Check be something you intentionally sign up for, and are checked out for suitability as well as knowing what the procedures are.

  • Bubbles

    TSA Pre-Check is nothing but a money pot for the government. The more they make normal security a hassle, the larger the number of people that sign up for Pre-check and the more money the government makes.

    If they are so worried about security, randomly selecting people to go through much less screening is not a way to prove it. I think it’d similar to a crack dealer – first hit is free, then when you’re hooked, jack the price.

  • Molly

    I have to ask this, hoping one of you will know. Is there any kind of age criteria involved in managed inclusion?
    Reason: I travel sporadically but fairly frequently for work, domestic and foreign. I did not travel at all from March of 2014 to March of 2015. In the last 6 months, I have made 5 trips. For 4 of those trips, I have been PreCheck. I had never ever been PreCheck prior to this. The only difference is that I got another year older (funny how that works haha) and am now 63. So, I have to wonder, does age affect managed inclusion?
    Just curious.

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