TSA, the employer of federal airport security screeners, posted a notice Friday for a program this winter to test devices to inspect shoes.
"[TSA] invites voluntary participation to a qualification test program leading to a list of qualified sources for shoe weapon inspection [technology] that can inspect footwear for weapons without passengers having to remove or divest them from their feet," read the notice on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.
Several lawmakers have criticized TSA for requiring passengers -- particularly frail, elderly passengers and U.S. soldiers -- to take off their footwear before going through metal detectors. TSA began inspecting passengers' shoes after terrorist Richard Reid, also known as the "Shoe Bomber," attempted in 2001 to blow up an airplane by lighting a bomb concealed in his shoe.
TSA said it would not guarantee the test project would lead to a contract, and companies must pay the costs related to testing their devices. Companies must submit a "White Paper" on their product by Aug. 22. TSA said it would choose devices three weeks after the deadline, and then companies would have four weeks to deliver their systems to the agency for in-house testing. Ninety days later, TSA plans to pick devices for the test program. The agency did not say where it would test the devices and did not return phone calls.
In 2003, the Homeland Security Department clarified its shoe-screening policy, saying screeners are instructed to encourage travelers to remove their shoes before entering the X-ray machines, but passengers are not required to do so.
TSA has found the checkpoint lines move faster if people remove their shoes because metal in shoes often triggers the alarm. The flow of passengers through airports has been a point of contention with lawmakers, and Congress has repeatedly pressed TSA to develop more efficient technology to speed up passenger and baggage screening.
Late last year, Congress required the Homeland Security Department to deliver a strategic report on its plan to deploy advanced explosive detection equipment at airports, including walkthrough explosive detection portals, document scanners, shoe scanners and backscatter X-ray scanners. The report, which was due in March, has not been delivered.