The Illusion of Assurance

Over the last couple of weeks we have been reading with great interest the commentary about the management of airport security lines by the United States Transport Security Administration.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wrote in a letter to the Transportation Security Administration:

the patience of the flying public has reached a breaking point…we can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of TSA passenger screening services.

As we read about the challenges – thankfully not whilst we were standing in an airport security line – it made us stop and consider is there a breaking point in every control?

For obvious reasons we all know why these controls are necessary so this missive is not a criticism of that need.

More so it is a commentary on how is it that the situation – a control that everyone agrees is necessary – can deteriorate to such an extent that one government agency is calling out the failings of another so publicly.

What was happening with the TSA passenger screening services that the inadequacies – real or perceived by stakeholders of which the Port was one – were not identified, discussed and remedied before the angst was put to writing?

Where were the early warning signals for the TSA that all was not right?

If they existed – why were they ignored?

If they didn’t exist – why not?

Equally why didn’t the TSA realize that trust is an essential element of any successful control and why did they not communicate – the strongest indicator of a trusting environment – with its stakeholders early.

People are willing to tolerate inefficiencies if they understand the reason for the inefficiency.


In the same way that waters seeks out the path of least resistance, so do people when faced with a control at “breaking point”.

The control – what ever it may be – has ceased to work in the way that it was designed.

What you have is the illusion of assurance.

And that is the most dangerous place to be.



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