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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

OIG Finds TSA Did Not Assess Explosives Detection Canine Team Program for Surface Transportation Security

A review by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) partially complied with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 by establishing operational processes for routine activities within its Explosives Detection Canine Team (EDCT) program for surface transportation. 

The FAA has initiated the use of explosives detection canine teams as far back as 1972 in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over airports to protect against terrorist attacks. In March 2003, the FAA transferred its canine program to TSA. 

TSA uses both Passenger Screening Canines and Explosives Detection Canines, with the latter trained to target stationary objects and are exclusively operated by state and local law enforcement agencies (LEA) in the aviation and surface transportation systems. In May 2020, OIG found a number of faults with TSA’s Passenger Screening Canine unit, including a failure to determine the number of teams needed to provide security and mitigate risks. 

The EDCT training program includes canine, handler, and refresher training. Canine Training Instructors, trained by the Canine Training Center, conduct quarterly assessments of EDCTs. Additionally, instructors provide refresher, advancement, and deficiency resolution training to all EDCTs on a case-by-case basis.

OIG found that TSA has developed a deployment strategy based on risk for EDCTs to airports, however there is no such strategy for surface transportation. The watchdog said TSA did not evaluate the entire EDCT program for alignment with its risk-based security strategy as required by the Act; nor did it develop a unified deployment strategy for its EDCTs surface transportation.

According to OIG’s report dated August 4, 2021, “there is no mention of the EDCT program in either TSA’s Surface Transportation Security Assessment or TSA’s Surface Transportation Risk-Based Security Strategy”. In addition, TSA was unable to provide OIG with any evidence it evaluated the EDCT program. 

TSA leadership told OIG it does not have a strategy to deploy its canines to the surface transportation system because it relies on its LEA partners to deploy their EDCTs according to the LEAs’ deployment strategies.

Surface transportation systems are, by nature, open systems. “Unlike the aviation environment, direct responsibility to secure surface transportation systems falls primarily on the system owners and operators,” TSA states. “Many of these owners and systems have already enhanced their security baseline through voluntary measures, including actions supported by the Department of Homeland Security through funding provided under various grant programs.”

TSA provides significant resources and support to local LEA canine teams in the surface transportation system by providing a canine for each handler, initial team training, and an annual stipend. However, LEA participation in the EDCT program is voluntary. As a result, TSA does not require that its LEA partners participate in conducting a risk-based evaluation of the EDCT program. 

As a result of the shortcomings, OIG says TSA cannot be sure that EDCTs are properly allocated, based on risk, to protect the traveling public from a terrorist attack. 

OIG’s report consequently recommended that TSA coordinates with local LEA partners to evaluate the EDCT program for consistency with TSA’s Surface Transportation Risk-Based Security Strategy to comply with the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. TSA agreed and noted that even before the conclusion of the OIG’s fieldwork for the draft report, it had finalized several related initiatives and program enhancements. The TSA Administrator’s Intent 2.0, for example, specifically prioritizes continuous improvements to resource allocation and coordination strategies. These improvements are ongoing and include improvements allocating and deploying surface resources. A forum will also be developed to increase collaboration with stakeholders.

It is worth noting that TSA’s Requirements, Capabilities, and Analysis (RCA) office is expecting results from an ongoing capability analysis of canine teams as Mobile Explosives Threat Mitigation resources in FY 2022. This initiative began in May 2021, in parallel to the Administrator’s Intent 2.0, and will study canines in a comparative environment in the context of security gaps and vulnerabilities. The analytical results, which TSA expects to have by June 30, 2022, will inform the next revision of TSA policy and guidance.

OIG also recommended that TSA coordinates with local LEA partners to develop an agency-wide strategy for deployment of Explosives Detection Canine Teams in the surface transportation system. TSA again concurred and said it would catalogue deployment strategies for its surface participants; and develop a unified surface deployment strategy addressing the critical and core goals of EDCT deployments and coordination of resources to mitigate identified gaps and vulnerabilities.

In fact, many ongoing initiatives already reflect progress in this area. For example, TSA’s National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program (NEDCTP) and Federal Air Marshal Service are assessing and promoting EDCT participation in insider threat operations and Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team operations. In addition, Security Operations is providing additional guidance to Federal Security Directors to use their NEDCTP resources to mitigate risk in local mass transportation venues. Once released, the Dynamic Canine Strategy Countermeasures Guide will identify many activities performed at, and within, surface venues during vulnerable times. 

The NEDCTP is implementing a new agreement template that intends to increase strategic planning and collaboration. This template agreement will be implemented with each relevant law enforcement agency and/or airport authority over the next two years to replace the existing Canine Screening of Individuals and Concept of Operations agreements. Currently, three of 49 of these new agreements are signed. The new agreements are intended for yearly review.

Read the full report at OIG

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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