The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security has said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not monitor the Advanced Imaging Technology system (AIT) to ensure it continues to fulfill needed capabilities for detecting non-metallic threat items concealed on air passengers.
The AIT systems used by TSA are full-body scanners that show a generic outline rather than any identifying characteristics of the person being scanned. Currently, AIT is the primary on-person screening device at passenger screening checkpoints in 340 airports nationwide. To date, TSA has deployed 962 AIT systems totaling an estimated $126 million.
Prior audit reports from both the Government Accountability Office and OIG have highlighted diminished detection performance and inefficient screening capabilities of TSA’s AIT system. While TSA has committed to addressing these gaps, new threats continue to emerge requiring advanced security measures.
In OIG’s recent audit, AIT met the requirement for system availability, but TSA did not monitor the AIT system’s probability of detection rate and throughput rate requirements set forth in TSA’s operational requirements document. OIG said these issues occurred because TSA has not established comprehensive guidance to monitor performance of the AIT system.
While TSA regularly conducts covert screening tests, OIG found TSA’s Office of Inspection has not reviewed AIT detection standards as part of its covert testing in more than five years. As of August 2019, TSA was in the process of developing draft procedures for how to monitor detection requirements. But TSA officials told OIG that there are challenges in designing such procedures since it is not feasible to use live explosives to test AIT at airports. OIG countered that while using live explosives may not be possible, TSA could consider other measures such as test articles manufactured in a TSA laboratory.
OIG has therefore recommended that TSA develop an effective monitoring strategy and implementation plan, including necessary policies and procedures for ensuring probability of detection through defined continued monitoring and assessment of the deployed AIT system. It also wants TSA to develop an effective monitoring strategy and implementation plan, including necessary policies and procedures for managing AIT throughput.
TSA has concurred. Regarding the detection strategy and plan, TSA said completion is highly dependent on methodologies currently under development. The estimated completion date is December 31, 2021. It estimates to complete work on the throughput monitoring plan by the end of this calendar year.
It is important to note that a lack of monitoring does not equate to a lack of functionality, and both the manufacturer and TSA fully test equipment during production and upon installation. It is essential however that TSA determines whether AIT addresses new and emerging threats through monitoring before funding and acquiring future systems.