Technology failures during the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) process for testing and evaluating the effectiveness of the screening technology used to keep airports across the nation secure have contributed to acquisition inefficiencies, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
TSA, within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is responsible for maintaining the security screening technologies within a vast nationwide airport infrastructure.
With approximately 440 federally regulated airports nationwide, TSA aims to secure 1.8 million passengers, 1.2 million checked bags, and 3 million carry-ons on approximately 25,000 flights, on a daily basis. TSA tests the passenger and baggage screening technologies the agency utilizes to meet mission directives.
“For over a decade, TSA has secured the nation’s civil aviation system amid continued threats,” GAO said. “Due to the significant challenge the agency faces in balancing security concerns with efficient passenger movement, it is important that TSA procure and deploy effective passenger and baggage screening technologies.”
On several previous occasions, GAO found that TSA encountered challenges in acquiring and deploying these technologies. GAO stated, “In reviews from 2010 to 2014, GAO found that TSA encountered challenges in acquiring and deploying technologies.” Furthermore, “From June 2010 to July 2015, half of the 22 systems that TSA tested successfully completed qualification and operational testing. TSA procured all but 1 of the 11 successful systems.”
While TSA has taken measures to enhance testing and screening evaluations by ensuring technologies are better developed before testing, it is too early to determine whether these efforts are increasing acquisition efficiency.
For instance, TSA is developing a third party testing strategy, through which a third party will help ensure selected technologies are mature prior to entering TSA’s test and evaluation process. TSA plans to implement its approach in 2016, but it has yet to finalize key aspects of the strategy.
While TSA has a 2016 launch plan, some of the key aspects of their strategy remain undefined, including whether there are enough eligible third party vendors to oversee testing. This puts TSA at risk of increasing acquisition expenditures. In addition, without performing a comprehensive assessment of testing data, TSA is missing out on key opportunities to locate areas for additional improvement.
“While the third party testing strategy is likely to help improve system readiness for entering the test process, TSA has not conducted a comprehensive assessment of testing data for baggage and passenger screening systems, and therefore cannot be certain whether the steps currently planned will address other factorscontributing to acquisition inefficiencies,” GAO said.
Consequently, GAO recommended that TSA finalize its third party testing strategy before implementing further third party testing requirements for vendors to enter testing, and conduct a comprehensive assessment of testing data to identify key factors contributing to any acquisition inefficiencies.
DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendations.
In the agency’s comments on GAO’s report, DHS stated, “To provide support of TSA’s mission and increase the maturity of technologies, the TSA Test and Evaluation (T&E) Program will continue to evaluate the T&E process to identify testing challenges, the impact on TSA’s acquisitions, and potential areas for reform. The TSA T&E Program will ensure this comprehensive analysis is transparent and includes input from all T&E stakeholders across TSA and industry.”