The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses a variety of programs to train and evaluate Transportation Security Officers (TSO), who are responsible for screening passengers and baggage for threats to aviation security, at nearly 440 airports across the country. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said TSA TSOs’ proficiency still needs improvement.
Following the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General’s (IG) recent covert testing that measures TSO performance through covert testing of TSA screening operations, the Secretary of DHS directed TSA in June 2015 to conductfurther training for all TSOs and supervisors. GAO was asked to review TSA’s efforts to train and test TSOs.
“TSA has made use of annual proficiency review data to enhance TSO training, but its use of other testing data is constrained by incomplete and unreliable data,” a new GAO audit report said. “Specifically, due to software compatibility issues and a lack of automatic uploading capability, airport reporting on assessments of X-ray machine operators was not complete, as required by TSA policy, for each year of data GAO examined (fiscal years 2009 through 2014), limiting their reliability and use to enhance TSO training.”
“In addition,” GAO reported, “for the data it does collect on these assessments, TSA has not taken steps to analyze these data nationwide, which could help the agency identify potential trends or opportunities to improve TSO performance. Furthermore, in 2015, TSA determined that prior year results of one of its two covert testing programs to assess TSOs’ ability to identify prohibited items at checkpoints were unreliable, resulting in pass rates that were likely higher than actual TSO performance. TSA has since taken steps to enhance reliability by hiring a contractor to perform independent validation testing, among other things. Finally, TSA does not require or track implementation by field personnel of national recommendations related to these covert tests, thereby limiting the agency’s ability to take advantage of the corrective actions identified from the tests.”
According to GAO, “TSA measures TSO performance in various ways, including annual proficiency reviews, which certify TSOs by evaluating their ability to carry out screening standard operating procedures; assessments of X-ray machine operators’ ability to identify prohibited items by displaying fictional threat items, such as guns or explosives, onto X-ray images of actual baggage; and covert testing programs that use role players to take prohibited items through screening checkpoints to test TSOs or determine how TSOs interact with the public, among other things.”
“Over the time periods GAO reviewed, TSA data on the results of annual proficiency reviews and covert testing on how TSOs interact with the public show that TSOs’ scores (pass rates) varied by airport security risk category.”
GAO is not providing TSOs’ scores for annual proficiency reviews, X-ray machine operator assessments, or covert testing for prohibited items at checkpoints “due to the sensitive or classified nature of the data or the data reliability concerns.
GAO recommended TSA collect complete data on assessments of X-ray machine operators, analyze these data nationally for opportunities to enhance TSO performance and track the implementation of covert testing recommendations.
TSA concurred with the recommendations.