Loving Loy

Loving Loy

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Perhaps the most telling thing about the praise for James Loy on the announcement that he was departing the Transportation Security Administration wasn''t exactly what was said but where the tributes came from.

Transportation industry officials weren''t just lauding Loy - you''d expect that in the Washington political game - but actually lamenting his promotion out of TSA. At the same time, members of Congress who have stood hard against freight transport operators in debates over security were equally effusive.

"No one knows better than Admiral Loy where the gaping holes are in our airline security system," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., an outspoken advocate of stringent air cargo security. "I only hope that he can now convince the Bush administration to plug these holes using whatever resources necessary to make our passengers safer."

Loy has been on the job at TSA for only eight months, but anyone who can draw that kind of praise obviously knows his way around Washington - and how to get things done.

For transport operators, Loy had one very positive and very undeniable attribute: he was not John Magaw. Loy abruptly replaced Magaw early this year when the complaints about the TSA''s first administrator grew too loud for the White House to ignore. The transportation industry was aghast at what industry representatives believed was an overriding "police officer" approach to security.

Airline industry officials said that their comments on security were routinely dismissed and freight operators feared that the "hassle factor" that was roiling the passenger airlines would extend to cargo transport.

Loy stepped into an agency that was unsettled and poorly directed. Whether the agency itself is in good shape these days isn''t a settled matter, but Loy did create a framework for measured consideration of security matters. He and his deputies have taken the time to listen to those who have a stake in freight transportation and by doing that he has managed to get much of the cargo industry on board and behind his goals.

That''s been most evident in the high-profile aviation arena, where Loy created working groups of government and industry representatives that have met over several months to examine how to make the expedited supply chain more secure. As one Washington hand put it, "Since when has anybody in the government solicited input before writing a rule?"

Members of Congress have tried to push TSA to move more precipitously (see Rep. Markey, above), but Loy has stood firm, saying only two weeks ago that universal cargo screening was a laudable goal but not yet possible.

There is a shadow behind the plaudits, however, and that is what troubles the transport industry. If Loy was so good, the reasoning goes, can we only go down from here? Can anyone else be as responsive and responsible as Loy has been in a job that means so much to so many people?

The truth is, however, that Loy really isn''t going very far. His move to the new No. 2 position at the Department of Homeland Security leaves him with an opening to oversee the TSA. Transport companies are hoping he does that.

The TSA has always struck me as something of a divided agency, one split between those pushing the pure police-style approach of Magaw and the more measured types who want to look at the broader impact that security rules may have on the national economy.

Right now, TSA''s short lifetime is pretty well divided between the Magaw period and the Loy period. With freight transport security moving to the top of the agency''s agenda, those who depend on logistics should have a lot to say about which legacy will live the longest at the TSA.