by Wilson P. Dizard III, Government Computer News

Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge and transportation security administrator David Stone this morning highlighted the last of five pilot sites for the Registered Traveler program, under which airline passengers are prescreened for faster passage through security.

“With the continuing success of pilot programs in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Houston and Boston, TSA is demonstrating that the Registered Traveler program can improve customer service and enhance our already strong layered system of aviation security” Ridge said at a news conference at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va.

TSA today expanded operations of the pilot at National Airport, where the agency is recruiting frequent flyers from American Airlines to join the voluntary, free program. American also is working with TSA at Boston’s Logan airport, while Northwest Airlines is TSA’s partner in Minneapolis, United Airlines is working in Los Angeles and Continental Airlines in Houston.

TSA announced in April that it would run the five, 90-day pilot programs (GCN story).

In each of the programs, travelers provide biometric information?iris scans, fingerprints and photographs. TSA checks travelers against terrorist and criminal databases and tells them if they have qualified for the program. TSA declined to say if any applicants had been rejected.

Once registered, program participants use kiosks at security checkpoints to establish their identity and qualify for accelerated screening.

Ridge said today that TSA would periodically recheck the status of registered travelers. “It’s not in perpetuity,” he said of the program membership.

Asked whether biometric information gathered for the Registered Traveler program would be integrated with similar information gathered for the State Department’s biometric “smart passports,” Ridge said it is in DHS’s best interest to integrate the use of such systems globally. (GCN story)

DHS officials expect the program will reduce waiting times and allow TSA employees to focus more of their attention on passengers about whom the department knows nothing.

Ridge said the department had received $10 million to run the pilots and that there is a $15 million provision for the Registered Traveler program in the fiscal 2005 budget. He added that while political leaders in Washington generally expect the government to be funded by a continuing resolution, he expressed hope that the DHS appropriations bill would pass before the end of the current Congress in January.

“A lot of people would be willing to pay to join the Registered Traveler program, and to provide more information to us,” Ridge said. He based that remark, he said, on conversations he had had with travelers.

Ridge said biometric data the program gathers is stored in secure databases operated by TSA’s National Risk Assessment division.