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What Does the TSA Modernization Act Mean for Small Businesses?

In February, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was due to provide a strategy on opening up the procurement process to a wider network of companies, including small businesses. This strategy has not yet been released.

At the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security hearing, Chairman Lou Correa spoke of the difficulties small businesses in particular face when competing for TSA awards. He cited limited procurement cycles, high cost of certification and lengthy testing and evaluation processes as particular issues.

Speaking at the hearing, where the TSA Modernization Act (see below) led the agenda, Correa said “the act requires TSA to produce a strategy – back in February – to outline how you’re supposed to get there. What’s the status of this strategy and why are we eight months late on this specific area?”

Responding, TSA’s acting Deputy Administrator Patricia Cogswell said the strategy is within administration interagency clearance. “We hope to have it out within the next few weeks. I will say this is an area that I do actually feel quite proud.

“We agree with you that it is critically important to continue to look for new entrants in this space, that we not solely see just a consolidation of the market, but that we also look for the best ideas… …for individuals who maybe never even thought of themselves as working in the security community.”

Cogswell went on to highlight an example:

“Last year, we ran a special on exercise through DHS Science and Technology with a number of entities out in the wider world including educational institutions to look at new algorithms for our AIT [advanced imaging technology] machines, the on-body screening detection systems.

“We saw incredibly promising work all from individuals who had not previously provided this kind of service to TSA before. We have those algorithms in the lab now. Depending on the results, we would look to deploy them out on our existing fleet increasing both our detection and reducing our false positives that we see in that arena.”

She also spoke of another small business which is currently undergoing trials for its computed tomography (CT) equipment.

Cogswell added that of the 2.1 billion the TSA spent last year in acquisitions, 450 million was to small business, exceeding TSA’s target for the year.

Through the TSA’s Innovation Task Force, Cogswell said 85 submissions from 104 different vendors were received last year. 72 percent had never contracted with TSA before. Of those awarded, TSA selected 12 for demonstration, seven are small business.

“I want to encourage you to continue to look for small businesses,” Correa concluded. “That’s where the innovation’s going to come from. I’m sure that your traditional standard contractors are doing a fine job. But if you want to think out of the box, come up with some ideas, you’ve got to go somewhere you haven’t gone before.”

What is the TSA Modernization Act?

The Act is the first TSA comprehensive reauthorization since its inception in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11 2001.

It reauthorizes TSA programs through FY2020 and modifies the authorities, requirements, and organizational structure. It also codifies the transfer of the TSA from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Homeland Security.

The Act requires TSA to:

  • authorize third-party testing and evaluation of screening technology;
  • develop a validation process for the reciprocal recognition of security equipment technology approvals among international security partners or recognized certification authorities for deployment;
  • make information on wait times at airport security checkpoints publicly available in real time online and at airport terminals;
  • develop and issue certification standards for the use of third-party explosives detection canine teams for screening of individuals, property, and air cargo;
  • establish private sector partnerships to increase the methods and capabilities available for the public to enroll in the PreCheck Program; and
  • meet specified targets for expanding PreCheck enrollment.

On October 29 the Government Accountability Office testified  on the progress made by the TSA in the areas mandated by the Act.

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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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