Audit criticizes TSA screener training

IG recommends agency implement uniform training processes.

The Transportation Security Administration needs to better prepare airport screeners, in part by standardizing the training process, according to a report from the Homeland Security inspector general's office.

The report comes at a time of increased scrutiny for TSA because of controversy over body scanners in airports and other proposed security measures. Some groups concerned with privacy issues are urging passengers to boycott the scanners during upcoming holiday travel. TSA's process for updating screener training is informal and undocumented, and the agency lacks strong oversight of the program, which includes 40 hours in the classroom and 60 hours of on-the-job instruction.

The IG report said the agency's on-the-job training also needs improvement. While a TSA official "recognized the importance of a standardized, structured on-the-job training program … TSA was unable to provide documentation of the accomplishments" of established work groups to improve the program. TSA also has failed to implement a formal program for selecting and dispatching qualified on-the-job training monitors.

On-the-job instruction also lacked consistency. At some airports included in the audit, one monitor oversaw trainees, while at other airports several monitors helped train new hires. TSA officials acknowledged in the report "the agency did not strategically plan and document … training development from the onset due to the urgent need to initiate operations in the aftermath" of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

TSA also fails to ensure that trainees have enough time to efficiently complete training requirements, the audit said. Trainees reported being rushed through course material and at one unnamed airport, were allowed to skip some online instruction partly because of staffing challenges.

The audit recommended the agency use officer test results to evaluate training program results, assign on-the-job training responsibilities, and evaluate workforce and training needs to ensure officers have the tools and time necessary to complete the requirements.

In its response, TSA agreed with the report's recommendations. The agency said a 2009 multiyear contract for specialized security training will provide a more structured program, including analysis of performance data and coordination of training with technology.

Other steps the agency has taken to improve training include: quarterly work reviews beginning in fiscal 2011 to prioritize training, formalizing on-the-job preparation programs, and ensuring trainees receive sufficient time to complete required training.