Lawmakers criticize TSA screening systems as inefficient

Lawmakers on Thursday called the Transportation Security Administration's baggage screening and bomb detection systems inadequate and said failure rates of some programs indicate the potential for dire consequences.

"The system we now have in place, the failure rate [to detect explosives] is just disastrous," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee, at a hearing. Detailed information on failure rates is classified, the lawmakers said.

In addition, TSA's baggage handlers are injured on the job more often than employees at other federal agencies, Mica said. He cited an Occupational Safety and Health Administration report that said 16 percent of TSA baggage screeners were injured at work.

The physical toll on screeners can be measured in dollars and cents: the $55 million for workers' compensation requested by the agency in its fiscal 2007 budget is a 40 percent increase from 2006.

Systems that keep luggage out of screeners' hands and on conveyor belts would be faster and safer, Mica said. Some baggage examination machines require too much staffing, as well, he said.

He also urged the agency to look into a more standard and consistent screening system. "TSA unfortunately created a hodgepodge of systems," he said, calling for an investigation into the agency's screening contracts.

Some of the machines certified, bought and deployed to airports by TSA test for explosives residue on bags, while others target materials with density comparable to explosives. They vary widely in size, efficiency and cost.

The machines fall into two categories: explosive detection systems (EDS) and explosive trace detection machines (ETD). TSA is considering, or has deployed, 10 different EDS and ETDs since 1996. Nearly $4 billion has been spent since fiscal 2002 on EDS alone, according to Mica.

The baggage inspection systems represent an improvement in aviation security since Sept. 11, said subcommittee member Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill. But the bomb detection systems might not be ready for widespread use at major air traffic hubs.

"Maybe the expectations were set too high," he said.

Mica said because of the sheer weight of some systems and the ergonomic reconfigurations that accompany their installment, older, major airports may have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to accommodate the machines and some may find the task impossible. TSA should pinpoint one system that can be implemented on a broad scale, instead of using its current variety of machines, he said.

TSA's assistant administrator for operational process and technology, Randy Null, said the agency has made important strides in screening since December 2002. TSA is working with the aviation industry to develop a cost-sharing program for some baggage screening, and a study will be prepared by the end of 2006 on that program.

"The systems we deploy today are significantly more efficient than the systems initially deployed, and the systems we deploy tomorrow will be even better," Null said.

Mica, however, was not appeased.

"We're three … years into this thing," he said at one point. "It just drives me out of my gourd…. What ... went wrong?"

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.