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GAO: TSA’s Airport Perimeter Security Strategy Needs an Update

GAO: TSA’s Airport Perimeter Security Strategy Needs an Update Homeland Security TodayWeaknesses in the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) oversight of airport perimeter security and access controls may be putting the nation’s civil aviation system at grave risk, according to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

On April 20, 2014, a teenager scaled a perimeter fence and sneaked on to the airfield of Mineta San Jose Airport and hid in the wheel well of a Maui-bound flight. This is not an isolated incident. Intruders breach airport fences every 10 days, according to an Associated Press investigation.

In addition, a number of security events over the past several years involving aviation workers using access privileges to smuggle weapons and drugs into security-restricted areas have raised serious concerns over access control security.

In 2015, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspector reportedly bypassed security and flew from Atlanta to New York with a gun in his carry-on baggage. The incident followed closely on the heels of the arrest of a Delta Airlines worker for involvement in a plot to smuggle 153 guns onto a flight from Atlanta to New York City.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called the gun smuggling operation a “cake walk to pull off” which revealed a “gaping and dangerous loophole in airport security plans.”

As a result of these incidents, GAO was asked to review TSA’s oversight of airport perimeter and access control security. GAO determined that TSA has made progress in addressing airport security vulnerabilities since the federal investigators last reported on the topic in 2009. However, significant weaknesses remain, which may be putting the entire civil aviation system at risk.

GAO revealed that TSA’s Risk Assessment of Airport Security, released by the agency in 2013, has not been updated to reflect new threats, such as TSA’s subsequent determination of risk from the insider threat, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation asserts is one of the greatest threats to airport security.

“In response to our 2009 recommendation, TSA developed a strategy to guide and unify the agency’s efforts to strengthen airport security,” said GAO. “However, if the strategy does not incorporate the most current assessment of airport security-related risk and new activities TSA has taken to facilitate airport security, its value as a decision-making tool may not be fully realized.”

Furthermore, TSA has not comprehensively assessed the vulnerability of airports system-wide, neglecting smaller airports classified as Category III and IV airports, which make up 62 percent of commercial airports. Over 1,670 events—approximately 9.4 percent of total security events analyzed by GAO since fiscal year 2009—occurred at Category III and IV airports.

These security incidents included individuals climbing or crashing cars into airport security fences, and aviation workers allowing others into airport access portals against protocol.

“Given budget and resource constraints, it might not be feasible to assess the vulnerability of the nation’s approximately 440 commercial airports individually, but other approaches—such as assessing a sample that reflects a broader representation of airports or providing airports with a self-vulnerability assessment tool—would provide a system-wide perspective on vulnerability while requiring fewer resources,” said GAO.

GAO offered six recommendations, including that TSA update its Risk Assessment ofAirport Security, develop and implement a method for conducting a system-wide assessment of airport vulnerability, and update its National Strategy for Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security.

DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendations and identified planned actions to address the recommendations.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
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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