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Transportation Security Administration Reform

April 2, 2012

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA), created in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was intended to be a lean security agency with the flexibility to quickly respond and adapt to potential threats of terrorism. Instead TSA has mushroomed into a massive, inflexible, backward-looking bureaucracy of more than 65,000. Over its first ten years of existence, the agency and its numerous failures have cost taxpayers $57 billion.

TSA is a top-heavy agency in need of reform. Its ranks include 3,986 headquarters staff in Washington, DC making $103,852 per year on average, and 9,656 administrators in the field. The agency's primary objectives should be setting security standards, overseeing security performance, and analyzing intelligence, but it has become too focused on maintaining and growing its own bureaucracy. This is an agency that needs to get out of the personnel management business and into the security business.

Passenger Screening Reform -- Private-Federal Screening Model Is More Efficient & Cost-Effective, and Could Save Taxpayers $1 Billion

One key reform necessary to ensuring TSA becomes a better security agency and stops throwing away taxpayers' money is expansion of the program that allows airports to “opt out” of federal security screeners and instead use certified private screeners under federal standards, supervision and oversight.

The original law creating TSA included this program that utilizes the private-federal screening model, known as the Screening Partnership Program (SPP). Last year, however, TSA arbitrarily decided to halt the expansion of this program.

An important provision included in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (H.R. 658), a bill introduced in the House by Chairman John L. Mica and signed into law in February 2012, restarts the SPP program and allows airports the continued option of selecting the more cost-effective private-federal screening model. Click here for more information about this potentially cost-saving provision included in the FAA law.

In order to ensure TSA complies with the law, Chairman Mica, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, and National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz on March 13, 2012 wrote to TSA Administrator Pistole, putting the agency on notice that they expect TSA to implement the law's reforms ensuring airports can opt out of all-federal security screening. (Click here for the press release.)

Mica also wrote to the nation's approximately 200 busiest airports informing them of their right to opt out of all-federal passenger security screening.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and others have shown the SPP model of screening to be as effective or more effective than the all-TSA model. When TSA used a flawed cost analysis in order to justify shutting down this program, GAO reported that TSA ignored critical data related to costs. A 2011 Transportation and Infrastructure Committee investigative report entitled "TSA Ignores More Cost-Effective Screening Model" evaluates costs in a more comprehensive and accurate manner than previous TSA cost estimates. The Committee's report demonstrates that the private-federal model is 65% more efficient and would increase taxpayer savings by at least 42%. According to the report, if the nation’s top 35 airports opted out, taxpayers would save $1 billion over five years.

A Decade of Costly TSA Missteps

Every day, new headlines recap the latest misstep in TSA's ten-year history. Click here to read “A Decade Later: A Call for TSA Reform,” a report prepared by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee highlighting a decade of TSA mismanagement and failures. The report was released on November 16, 2011, ten years after Congress passed the legislation establishing TSA, and calls for dramatic reform of the nation’s bloated transportation security agency.

"Unfortunately, TSA has lost its way. TSA must become the kind of agency it was intended to be – a thinking, risk-based, flexible agency that analyzes risks, sets security standards and audits security performance." -- Chairman John L. Mica

TSA's poor performance over the last ten years clearly demonstrates the need for reform. Click here for a fuller account of how TSA failures are costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

TSA Wastes Over $200 Million Every Year on Flawed Behavior Detection Program

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) failure to implement an effective behavior detection program for aviation security costs taxpayers approximately $212 million every year. While a properly developed behavior detection program has the potential to provide a valuable layer of security, as it does in some countries, TSA's poorly tested and deployed program, known as the SPOT program, has proven to be expensive and ineffective.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), TSA never scientifically validated the SPOT program, never determined whether the techniques could be applied for counterterrorism or in an airport environment, and never conducted a cost-benefit analysis.

The program's ultimate failure is that it has not identified a single known terrorist. GAO reported that since the program’s inception, at least 17 known terrorists have traveled through eight SPOT airports on 23 different occasions, including Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber.

TSA Has Failed to Approve Biometric Technology for Pilots or Port Workers

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are responsible for the continued failure to develop a commercial pilot's license with biometric capabilities.

Requirements for an approved pilot's license were passed by Congress in 2004 and have yet to be fulfilled by the agencies. The federal government has wasted millions of dollars on upgrading licenses that still do not meet Congressional requirements.

TSA has also failed to fully implement a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) for maritime transportation workers. TWIC is intended to protect the nation’s port and maritime transportation systems, but the GAO has uncovered serious flaws and weaknesses in this program.

Development of the TWIC was required in the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. After years of delay and nearly half-a-billion dollars in costs, TSA finally began issuing TWICs in 2007. However, the agency still has not approved a technology to read the biometrically enabled credentials. Without an approved reader, the TWIC is little more useful than an expensive library card. Each TWIC costs port employees $132.50, and many of these cards will expire and have to be purchased again before they are truly functional.

Even more troubling, The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has reported that a TWIC can be fraudulently obtained. According to TSA, hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent on the TWIC Program. In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimated that the combined cost to the federal government and the private sector may reach $3.2 billion over a ten-year period – not taking into account the full cost of implementing and operating readers. Despite these significant costs, GAO has reported that the TWIC program was poorly tested and evaluated before deployment began. Click here for more information.

Although TSA can't get it right, biometric identification cards are not a new technology for government agencies. The U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy and most nuclear power plants regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) employ biometric technologies in access control, as does the New York Police Department.

Members of the Committee and Congress will continue to work to reform and reduce the size of the massive TSA bureaucracy, support a risk-based approach to security that maximizes the effectiveness of this critical agency, and seek additional ways to improve the TSA’s ability to protect our transportation systems.

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