TSA Lacks Backup Plan for Unqualified Tech

Whole body imagers, which have gained new support after the failed Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, have not yet received certification by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) noted recently.

But TSA has not made contingency plans for acquiring suitable alternate technologies in its stimulus fund expenditure strategy if the devices should fail testing and qualification, the IG said in its report, Review of Transportation Security Administration’s Expenditure Plan: Explosives Detection Systems and Equipment.

Whole body imagers "are still undergoing qualification and operational testing. As a result, TSA does not yet know whether or when these technologies will be available for deployment," stated the IG report, made public Dec. 31.

TSA received $1 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5). The IG office reviewed TSA’s expenditure plan to determine if it were "practical, thorough, comprehensive, and designed to meet the Recovery Act’s goals." The IG also took a look at whether the plan mitigated risk and contained proper management control strategies.

The report concluded that the TSA plan generally was practical, thorough and comprehensive. But it protested that TSA did not develop contingency plans for the procurement of equipment that the Transportation Security Laboratory did not qualify or test. TSA did not agree with the IG finding.

TSA divided its Recovery Act funding between the Electronic Baggage Screening Program with $700 million and the Passenger Screening Program with $300 million.

But the IG report criticized TSA for not having contingency plans for technologies that failed qualification under the Passenger Screening Program (PSP). Specifically, TSA planned to use its stimulus funds to purchase 755 advanced technology x-ray systems, 275 universal conveyer systems, 500 bottled liquid scanners, 200 whole body imagers, and 300 explosive trace detection units, the report noted.

All but the explosive trace detectors have not received approval through the Transportation Security Laboratory, the IG report said. However, TSA had planned to use $194.7 million of its passenger screening technology budget to purchase those items in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009.

Whole body imagers are capable of detecting concealed solids under the clothing of a passenger such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is alleged to have carried an explosive powder onboard Northwest Flight 253, which originated in Nigeria bound for Detroit,Mich.

Screening equipment such as whole body imagers must pass tests to go into widespread use by TSA throughout airports worldwide. The time required to qualify particular types of technology from specific vendors varies widely, the IG report observed.

"In spite of this potential barrier to the timely expenditure of the Recovery Act funds, TSA did not develop a contingency plan for the use of the passenger screening technology funding, or identify a deadline to reallocate the Recovery Act funds in the event that the Transportation Security Laboratory does not approve the proposed technology," the report stated.

Although the report examined such delays in light of speeding stimulus funds to the US economy quickly, the delays also could contribute to potential security gaps by permitting travelers like Abdulmutallab to exploit weaknesses in current technologies.

Gale Rossides, acting TSA administrator, strongly disagreed with the IG findings.

"Although the expenditure plan did not includespecific contingency plans, the PSP fulfills this function by periodically reassessing the progress of all technologies undergoing testing and makes modifications to the expenditure plan when delays or deficiencies result in the unavailability of qualified products," Rossides wrote in response to the IG report.

"The variety of technologies in the PSP portfolio and the rolling acquisition process employed by the PSP enable the program to dynamically realign funds to those technologies that have qualified products on a Qualified Products List (QPL) or that have met the requirements listed in the Functional Requirements Document for a specific technology if a QPL is not employed," she added.

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