TSA’s bomb-sniffing dogs could be doing more, report finds

Chris O'Meara/AP file photo

The Transportation Security Administration collects data on its bomb-sniffing canine program but is not analyzing the data to determine what is working well and what is not, according to a new report.

“Such analyses could help TSA to determine canine teams' proficiency, inform future deployment efforts, and help ensure that taxpayer funds are used effectively,” the Government Accountability Office wrote.

Security screeners use the dogs to detect explosive devices and materials on cargo and passengers.

In conducting its own analyses of TSA data, auditors found canine teams were often not in compliance with monthly training requirements. The teams tasked with inspecting cargo were screening more shipments than required, signaling TSA could increase the minimum.

TSA is also not utilizing data for its passenger screening canine teams, which are tasked with inspecting individuals for explosives. Many airport officials do not trust the effectiveness of the teams and have therefore declined to use their services. This has led to a lack of bomb-sniffing dogs in the “highest-risk airport locations,” GAO said.

Even when the teams have been deployed, TSA has not analyzed available information to determine where within the airport the dogs should be located to maximize effectiveness.

GAO recommended TSA analyze its data to identify trends and what areas of the canine programs need to be fixed. It also suggested a full assessment of the passenger screening program to determine its usefulness. If the assessment proves targeting individuals is effective, the teams should then be applied to the highest risk airports, the auditors said.

The TSA has more than 760 canine teams and in 2012, a $101 million budget for canine programs. It concurred with all of GAO’s recommendations. 

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