TSA Failing 'in Almost Every Area of Their Functions'

WASHINGTON – The inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security remains “deeply concerned” whether the agency charged with maintaining internal security is up to the task.

John Roth told the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee that the Transportation Security Administration, an arm of DHS responsible for ensuring airport safety and screening passengers before boarding, faces “significant challenges” in contracting for goods and services.

“Despite spending billions on aviation security technology, our testing of certain systems has revealed no resulting improvement,” Roth said.

The inspector general said his office has issued hundreds of recommendations with the intent of improving TSA’s efficiency and effectiveness to little avail.

“We have conducted a series of covert penetration tests – essentially testing TSA’s ability to stop us from bringing simulated explosives and weapons through checkpoints, as well as testing whether we could enter secured areas through other means,” Roth said. “Although the results of those tests are classified, we identified vulnerabilities caused by human and technology-based failures.”

Audits of the TSA workforce, Roth said, “repeatedly found that human error -- often a simple failure to follow protocol -- poses significant vulnerabilities.”

Establishing consistency within the ranks of TSA inspectors is a mammoth task, Roth noted. The agency’s 50,000 transportation security officers “spend long hours performing tedious tasks that require constant vigilance.” Complacency can be a huge detriment to TSA’s ability to carry out its mission.

“TSA cannot afford to miss a single, genuine threat without potentially catastrophic consequences,” Roth said. “Yet a terrorist only needs to get it right once.”

TSA, created in wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was created to protect the nation's transportation systems and ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. It is a massive operation, with a budget of more than $7.2 billion this fiscal year.

The agency screens about 1.8 million passengers and about 3 million carry-on bags at 450 airports nationwide every day.

In a report issued May 11, the inspector general’s office found that TSA has failed to provide the nation’s airports policies and procedures regarding the maintenance of its security equipment, a drawback that could carry dire consequences.

The report found that the agency hasn’t, for instance, offered airports any instructions on the proper preventive maintenance of tracking and monitoring equipment. While contractors are expected to provide data, TSA fails to verify that necessary maintenance work has been performed. And the contracts with equipment providers don’t contain penalties that can be assessed for poor performance.

"Therefore, TSA cannot be assured that routine preventive maintenance is performed or that equipment is repaired and ready for operational use," the report concluded.

The lack of proper oversight, the report said, could endanger passenger safety and "risks shortening equipment life and incurring costs to replace equipment. If the equipment is not fully operational, TSA may have to use other screening measures, which could result in longer wait times and delays in passenger and baggage screening."

Among its recommendations, the inspector general’s office said TSA should establish a means of verifying that required maintenance is conducted.