TSA app shows how mobility must wrestle with red tape

TSA developers built the app quickly, but couldn't find a way to get it on employees' phones.
TSA's Guy Cavallo with his roll of "government red tape." (FedScoop)

TSA’s Guy Cavallo with his roll of “government red tape.” (FedScoop)

When the Transportation Security Administration developed a mobile app that could channel internal agency information to its huge workforce of screeners, two-thirds of whom don’t have a government-issued device, they encountered an unexpected problem.

“We couldn’t deploy it,” said Guy Cavallo, executive director of IT operations for the agency.

There was no way to get the app onto the personal phones of the 40,000-plus screeners that lack TSA-issued devices.


“We couldn’t use our internal app store,” because that is only for software that runs on government-owned devices, he told FedScoop’s sixth annual MobileGov Summit Tuesday. And nor, at first, could they use the Apple app store. The company’s normal procedure for vetting apps in the store involves their engineers logging in to check the app’s functionality — something that requires a TSA employee account login. “Quite properly, the security people wouldn’t allow that,” Cavallo said afterwards.

In the end, Apple allowed TSA personnel to video themselves logging on and demonstrating the app’s functionality. Once that workaround was agreed, Cavallo said, the app was up on the store within 48 hours.

Still, he said, “It took us longer to deploy than to develop” the TSA app, which pushes out information about job openings, rule changes for scheduling vacation and other internal information to the agency’s workforce in the field at hundreds of U.S. airports.

Cavallo’s dramatization of his difficulties — in which he wrapped a smartphone first in several layers of paper, representing policies, and finally in a sticky mess of “government red tape” — brought a spontaneous round of applause from the standing-room only audience at the Newseum.

“I can build it quickly, but with all this red tape, I can’t get it deployed,” he said to laughter.


But he quickly turned serious: “I advise all of you, don’t build it without knowing how to deploy it,” he said.

Contact the reporter on this story via email at, or follow him on Twitter @WatermanReports. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop to get all the federal IT news you need every morning in your inbox at 6 a.m.

Latest Podcasts