TSA Lags on Risks to Intermodal Transport

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not conducted full risk assessments across all major aviation and surface transportation modes; therefore, it lacks a comprehensive picture of the terrorist threats to those systems, congressional investigators said in a report Monday.

The National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) prescribes a six-step risk management process that TSA started to follow in 2007 with a National Transportation Sector Risk Analysis. It abandoned that effort, however, and later intermittently assessed threat, vulnerability, and consequence in the transportation modes of aviation, mass transit and passenger rail, freight rail, highways, and pipelines, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"However, a risk assessment, as required by the NIPP, involves assessing each of the three elements of risk and then combining them together into a single analysis," stated the GAO report, Transportation Security: Additional Actions Could Strengthen the Security of Intermodal Transportation Facilities.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, slammed the results of the report in a statement Monday.

"Assessing the security risks of our various modes of transportation is essential to determining how best to deploy our limited resources," said Mica, a frequent critic of TSA. "TSA’s failure to complete these critical risk assessments further demonstrates this bloated bureaucracy’s inability to respond effectively to the nation’s transportation security demands."

In 2007, TSA started its National Transportation Sector Risk Analysis, which would have estimated threat, vulnerability, and consequence for a set of terrorist attack scenarios and then would have integrated those estimates to score each scenario and compare the scores across the various modes of transportation. But TSA later abandoned the project "due to difficulties in estimating the likelihood of terrorist threats," the GAO report stated.

Indeed, TSA has fallen short in a number of areas to support the implementation of a risk management framework, the report concluded.

Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and TSA could do more for its personnel by providing workforce planning and training of employees; more for its management processes by coordinating activities with key stakeholders in transportation security; and more for technology by improving testing for technologies for supporting security programs, the report said.

"For example, in terms of personnel, TSA has periodically deployed Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) security teams within mass transit and passenger rail facilities to augment local security forces, but could do more to measure their performance. In our review of the VIPR program’s proposed fiscal year 2010 budget, we reported that performance measures had not been fully established to assess the results of VIPR deployments," the report read.

In another example, GAO cited a TSA need to improve its management processes by implementing initiatives such as assessments to guide investments in security resources and plans to set up information-sharing collaborations.

To address technology challenges, TSA must ensure it tests its checkpoint screening portals and other equipment in operational environments before actually deploying them, the report warned.

To address these specific problems, TSA agreed to develop performance measures for VIPR teams to measure their effectiveness. TSA also said it would address issues in management processes. It further said it would fix its testing procedures, but GAO and TSA disagree as to whether TSA is doing so effectively.

GAO asked DHS, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and Amtrak freight rail t comment on the intermodal transportation report. DHS and Amtrak agreed with its conclusions but DOT did not comment.

Mica blamed TSA’s shortcomings on its structure, saying it was too "top heavy" with more than 7,000 supervisors and administrators throughout the United States. Furthermore, 30 percent of TSA headquarters near Washington, DC, consists of supervisory positions with an average headquarters salary of more than $105,000, Mica criticized.

"This report is further proof that this is an agency in need of complete reform," Mica said. "If the President’s latest nominee [FBI Deputy Director John Pistole] to lead the TSA is confirmed, I will urge him to immediately reevaluate and reorganize this enormous, costly, and unwieldy bureaucracy of over 60,000 employees.

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