Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Have you ever wished you could tell the TSA what to do with itself? Now, you have that opportunity — at least when it comes to how they organize and manage their queues. To make things even better, they might actually pay you! The Transportation Security Administration has posted a challenge asking for people to develop a simulation model to tackle the capacity management issues of getting people through airport security. If you are interested in the challenge, the official call is here. Here are some of the specific considerations that need to be tackled:

TSA is looking for the Next Generation Checkpoint Queue Design Model to apply a scientific and simulation modeling approach to meet the dynamic security screening environment. The new queue design should include, but not limited to the following queue lanes:

  • TSA Pre✓™
  • Standard
  • Premier Passengers (1st class, business class, frequent fliers, etc.)
  • Employee and Flight Crews
  • PWD (wheelchair access)

The Challenge is to provide a simulation modeling concept that can form the basis to plan, develop requirements, and design a queue appropriately. The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules. Solvers are expected to provide the concept and provide evidence that it works as described in the requirements.

According to Nextgov.com, there are specific performance targets for different classes of customers (Attention, Passengers: $15,000 Prize for Whoever Can Speed TSA Screening, Jul 18)

The line, in this scenario, extends from the point where a passenger joins the end of the queue to the metal detector or body scan machine.

The rules for the challenge state wait times cannot be more than 5 minutes for PreCheck and 10 minutes for standard lines.


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All this week I have been traveling in China with a group of Kellogg faculty. It has been a fascinating trip as we have met with officials from several government agencies, executives from a variety of companies, and colleagues from the Guanghua School of Management. I have never been to China before so I have been trying to take everything in as we have gone around Beijing and Shanghai. This sign caught my eye as we were going through the Beijing airport.
I like the way they have chosen to present the wait time information for clearing security. It got me wondering why American airports don’t try reporting similar information. If nothing else, being clear about the targets would help set expectations for how long passengers should expect to be in queue. Of course, in the US, the people running the airport do not control how TSA agents are scheduled. Nor do they determine how many officers are managing the immigration desks (another piece of data on the sign).

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The new issue of Businessweek has an interesting article on how Iowa has a program to improve state services through lean services (Iowa’s Lone Efficiency Ranger, Aug 23).

Lean, a management theory popularized by Toyota Motor, focuses on kaizen, or, loosely translated, “change for the human good.” The idea is to first map all of the steps, stops, time, and personnel involved in making a product or executing a process, then rethink how it could be done more efficiently. In white-collar offices that’s hard because many of the steps are invisible. Still, a 2010 kaizen at the Iowa Department of Transportation resulted in a 46 percent reduction in the number of steps it took to issue a temporary restricted license, dropping the backlog of people awaiting them from 600 to about 100, and response time from 30 days to just five. “It’s a continuous improvement mind-set, and one of the things that you have to be doing is constantly reassessing,” says Mike Rohlf, the administrator of the Iowa office.

Issuing temporary restricted licenses hasn’t been the program’s only win. The Iowa Department of Management’s website list the various projects they have undertaken as well as the benefits they have seen.


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G4S has been appointed the Official Security Service Provider for London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  In addition to much talk about social responsibility, the G4S website states:

We specialise in outsourced business processes and facilities in sectors where security and safety risks are considered a strategic threat, with expertise in the assessment and management of security and safety risks for buildings, infrastructure, materials, valuables and people.  G4S is the largest employer on the London Stock Exchange with over 657,000 employees.  We have operations in more than 125 countries.

G4S was contracted to provide 10,400 personnel but today Mr. Buckles, CEO of G4S, admitted in a grueling hearing at the British Parliament that G4S currently only had 4,200 security personnel at Olympic venues.   That’s right, only 40% of the promised service level!  And the shortfall is very unevenly distributed: only 30 out of a contracted 300 G4S personnel had arrived to provide security at the Olympic cycling event on Tuesday.  Moreover, the 51-year old Buckles also said that G4S “would provide a minimum 7,000” when the games begin.

A few comments on the operations strategy (outsourcing service ops and capacity planning) and management (execution): First on operations management: According to the New York Times,

Mr. Buckles said he learned of the looming crisis while he was on vacation in the United States on July 3, but the company informed the Olympic organizers only on July 11 that it could not meet its obligations.  He was forced to apologize, saying he was deeply sorry for the shortfall in security staff and blaming it on the failure of a scheduling system.

This is a failure of executive oversight of G4S’s highest profile project and a cheap blame.  Here we have a firm whose business is staffing and a project whose requirements were known years in advance and then blaming it on “a scheduling system?”  Your operations = Your firm.


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The Numbers Guy column in today’s Wall Street Journal relates to our recent post on delays clearing customs at Heathrow (Border Delay Data Leave Fliers Up in the Air, May 5). He hits on a number of points similar to what we brought up. First, demands are going to be very peaked over the day. Check out his graph of arrivals at various US airports:

Note that we have posted about wait times at US ports of entry before. Also note that he is picking on at least two bad airports here with JFK and Miami since they have international flight arriving to multiple terminals. (I am not sure what happens at LAX.) That creates a particular challenge for Customs and Border Protection since they cannot easily move an idle agent from one terminal to another to help out for say 15 minutes or so. This is also an issue at London’s Heathrow.

Another point he mentions (that we touched on) is the difficulty of measuring just what the wait is. Here is the situation in London: (more…)

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So I was traveling for a conference this week.  I was consequently interested in an article in Monday’s New York Times about growing passenger frustration with the Transportation Security Administration’s passenger screening procedures (Flier Patience Wears Thin at Checkpoints, Nov 8). The article notes that complaints about the TSA’s procedures have to do both with their increasing intrusiveness and their speed. And, if you run British Airways, you may also complain that the TSA puts a greater burden on foreign carriers than domestic ones. Interestingly, those in the business seem more concerned that the hassle of getting through the airport will discourage travel than that another terrorist event may shut them down.

Giovanni Bisignani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, said in a speech at an aviation security conference in Frankfurt last week that the airlines would like to see an overhaul of the checkpoint screening process — with a greater focus on finding bad people, rather than bad objects. “Discouraging travelers with queues into the parking lot is not a solution,” Mr. Bisignani said in his speech. “And it is not acceptable to treat passengers as terrorists until they prove themselves innocent.”

That raises the question of just how bad waits are and whether they are getting worse. There is some evidence on the latter point. The wider use of body scanners has supposedly slowed down the process as those who are chosen to experience the latest in privacy invasion have to completely empty their pockets etc. Further, baggage fees mean more large carry ons and hence slower screening.

But just how long is the wait? It turns out that over the years the TSA has changed how they publicly report waiting times.

Although the T.S.A. used to track security line wait times and post that data on its Web site so travelers knew what to expect, the agency stopped publishing that information in 2008. It is now searching for a way to automate the process of collecting wait-time data, said Lauren Gaches, an agency spokeswoman, but does not know when it will resume sharing that information with the public.

Historical data posted on tsa.gov indicates that average peak wait times were about 12 minutes in 2006 and crept up to 15 minutes in early 2008. Since then, the T.S.A. has shifted to a system that tracks the percentage of passengers who wait 20 minutes or less to go through security, and says that 99 percent of travelers have waited less than 20 minutes in security lines in 2010.


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Time for a little demand management! NPR‘s Planet Money reports that the City by the Bay is entering a brave new world of variable pricing for on-street parking (San Francisco Spends $25 Million To Test ‘Goldilocks’ Parking, Jul 27). The plan is one part technology overkill and one part introductory microeconomics.

“It’s the ‘Goldilocks’ principle of parking spaces,” said Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who wrote a book called “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

Shoup’s work was the inspiration for a high-tech project San Francisco is launching today. Its aim: to set parking prices just right.

The system will use electronic sensors to measure real-time demand for parking spaces, and adjust prices accordingly. When there are lots of empty spaces, it will be cheap to park. When spaces are hard to find, rates will be higher.

These are not small swings in price either. Parking will start at 25¢ per hour but jump to $6 per hour — 24 times higher — when spots are scarce. In the long run, drivers will be guided to open spots by electronic signs and smart phone apps.


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There are some things about having this blog that I would not have predicted before we started it.  One such item is what search terms would get readers to this site.  Among the terms that people actually search on is “usps inefficient.”  That phrase and variations on it is one of the top ten phrases that get readers to our site because of Gady’s post way back in August. The question of whether the post office runs “well enough” is relevant at this time of year as people send off presents and card. The LA Times ran an article recently on whether it is time to privatize the post office (Time to privatize the Postal Service?, Dec 20).  One can also hear an interview with the article’s author David Lazarus on Marketplace Morning here.

One of the interesting things that Lazarus does is actually ask FedEx and UPS whether they find the idea of privatizing the postal service appealing:

I called FedEx and asked if they wanted to take over the postal service. “That’s not something we would comment on,” a company spokeswoman, Ann Saccomano, cagily replied. “It’s speculative.”

A UPS spokesman, Norman Black, was more forthcoming when I put the same question to him. “We believe that the government plays a role in terms of ensuring that every mailbox is reached every day,” he said. “That is not a responsibility that UPS would want.” …

“If the system was privatized, it might cost 44 cents to get a letter across Los Angeles but $5 to get it to Connecticut,” said Maher, the postal service spokesman. “When you think about a network that delivers to all homes every day — it’s huge,” he said. “Would a private company be able to do that? I don’t think so. I think we would lose universal service.” (more…)

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