Transportation Security Administration and law enforcement agencies participate in Operation RAILSAFE at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station on Sept. 3, 2015. (Official DHS photo by Barry Bahler)

GAO: DHS Could Better Share Security Test Results with Mass Transit Operators

TSA tests the effectiveness of commercially available technologies that could help secure mass transit systems, and produces written assessments of these products, but the Government Accountability Office found that TSA does not routinely or comprehensively share its assessments with the mass transit operators.

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has one research and development (R&D) effort focused on surface transportation, the Surface Transportation Explosive Threat Detection (STETD) program, which is developing technologies to secure mass transit systems (see figure). DHS guidance requires S&T to develop results-oriented milestones to track progress. GAO found, however, that S&T has not used milestones that fully adhered to DHS guidance. For example, most STETD program milestones did not clearly link to key activities described in program plans. As a result, DHS may not have the information needed to determine whether the STETD program is meeting its goals.

S&T, TSA, and stakeholders effectively collaborate, but TSA could better share test results with mass transit stakeholders. For example, S&T, TSA, and mass transit operators regularly collaborate on issues related to identifying mass transit capability gaps and testing security technologies to address those gaps. Nevertheless, GAO found TSA’s efforts to share information on existing technologies to secure mass transit could be improved.

Specifically, TSA regularly assesses commercially available technologies, but does not routinely or comprehensively share its results with mass transit operators. For example, TSA’s reports on its testing of commercially available products would provide mass transit operators with technical assessment information. However, seven of the nine mass transit operators GAO spoke with asked for more technical assessment information on existing commercial technologies, indicating that they may not be receiving the TSA products that would provide this information. Sharing this information more routinely and comprehensively with mass transit operators would allow TSA to better inform them about the capabilities of technologies that could be acquired to secure their systems.

GAO is making two recommendations: that S&T incorporate DHS milestone guidance for its STETD program, and that TSA develop a mechanism to routinely and comprehensively share security technology information with mass transit operators. DHS concurred with both recommendations.

Read the GAO report

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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