February 24, 2005The Transportation Security Administration expects to begin using a new computer system to prescreen airline passengers this summer, an agency spokeswoman said Thursday. TSA plans to issue a regulation giving it the power to check passengers flying on two of the nation's air carriers against expanded government no-fly and terrorist watch lists starting in August, said TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter. The agency has not decided yet which carriers will be selected. The system, called Secure Flight, is intended to check personal information on everyone who flies within the United States against watch lists of known or suspected terrorists at the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, including expanded no-fly and selectee lists. Information that might be checked could include a passenger's name, reservation date, travel agency or agent, travel itinerary, form of payment, flight number and seating location. TSA is currently testing Secure Flight using passenger records from last June. The Homeland Security Department plans to transfer the system to a new program office beginning with the new fiscal year. TSA has not made a decision yet on whether it also will use commercial data to prescreen passengers. A report from the Government Accountability Office this week (GAO-05-324) concluded that TSA has not done enough work to determine if information about people contained in commercial databases can be used to improve the system while being properly safeguarded. GAO said, "TSA measures developed to date do not identify impacts of using commercial data on aviation security in an operational environment. Accordingly, the measures do not generally reflect attributes of successful performance measures for this purpose." GAO added: "Additional work reviewing the refined measures, should DHS and TSA decide to pursue the use of commercial data for the Secure Flight system beyond concept testing, would be needed to determine if they are designed to identify relevant impacts on aviation security and reflect attributes of successful performance measures." TSA issued a contract to EagleForce Associates this week for testing the use of commercial data, Von Walter said. The contract is valued at about $475,000. TSA plans two phases of testing to determine the cost, feasibility and effectiveness of using commercial data. The tests are scheduled to begin in late February or early March, with results expected in April. "Until connectivity with the airlines is established, operational testing is not feasible," TSA said in response to the GAO report, which was completed before the contract to EagleForce was issued. "Consequently, many questions relating to operational effectiveness will necessarily remain unanswered until after the conclusion of testing." The Bush administration's fiscal 2006 budget request also restricts spending on Secure Flight until GAO issues a report on specific privacy and technical matters. GAO is expected to issue another audit of Secure Flight on March 28.
February 24, 2005