The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released its follow-up report regarding the performance of airport passenger/baggage screeners. The Audit Reportdetails the inspector general’s testing regarding the performance of airport passenger/baggage screening by TSA employees and concludes that we really aren’t that much safer than we were back in 2003 when the inspector general initially evaluated airport screening.
In preparing the report, the inspector general teams conducted “hundreds of screening checkpoint and checked baggage tests at airports of different sizes and annual passenger loads.” “A ‘test’ at a passenger screening checkpoint was defined as one tester attempting to take one threat object through the checkpoint into the sterile area undetected on his or her body or in his or her carry-on bag. A ‘test’ at a checked baggage location was defined as one or two testers introducing a bag with a simulated IED in it, and contamination on the outside, into the checked baggage system.” If the threat objects were detected and prevented from entering the secure area, the screeners “passed”. If the threat object made it through the screening to the secure area the screeners “failed”.
The inspector general concluded that “despite the fact that the majority of screeners with whom our testers came in contact were diligent in the performance of their duties and conscious of the responsibility those duties carry, the lack of improvement since our last audit indicates that significant improvement in performance may not be possible without greater use of new technology.” Based upon this conclusion, the inspector general recommended “TSA to expedite its testing programs and give priority to technologies, such as backscatter x-ray, that will enable the screening workforce to better detect both weapons and explosives.”
TSA’s response to the report was that “[w]e agree with the IG’s conclusion that significant improvements in performance will only be possible with the introduction of new technology. That said, we will continue to seek incremental gains in screener performance through training, testing and management practices.”
Unfortunately, this report confirms, the limited effectiveness of the current airport screening systems and doesn’t really tell us anything new. And TSA apparently agrees. This certainly doesn’t instill any further confidence in those systems. In the end, I suspect this report will simply be used in support of a TSA budget request for more money to allocate to research and/or technology for use in airport screening. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it doesn’t solve the current issue of TSA’s excessive budget to fund less than secure airport screening.