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entitled 'Aviation Security: Factors Could Limit the Effectiveness of 
the Transportation Security Administration's Efforts to Secure Aerial 
Advertising Operations' which was released on March 05, 2004.

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March 5, 2004:

The Honorable Tom Ridge:

Secretary, Department of Homeland Security:

Subject: Aviation Security: Factors Could Limit the Effectiveness of 
the Transportation Security Administration's Efforts to Secure Aerial 
Advertising Operations:

Dear Mr. Secretary:

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation 
Administration (FAA) issued flight restrictions to prevent flights over 
certain areas, to include stadiums, in response to increased concerns 
about the threat posed by terrorists using aircraft as a weapon. Larger 
stadiums, some of which may house more than 100,000 fans for certain 
events, may provide an attractive target for such a terrorist attack. 
Beginning in December 2001, FAA's Air Traffic Division Director of Air 
Traffic Services, and later the Transportation Security Administration 
(TSA), implemented processes to allow certain pilots and aircraft to 
operate over these events by waiving flight restrictions. However, in 
February 2003, Congress passed legislation that for 1 year prevented 
aerial advertising pilots[Footnote 1] from flying near stadium airspace 
during certain sporting events by suspending the waiver process. In 
January 2004, Congress passed legislation continuing this restriction 
indefinitely.[Footnote 2]

In the event that the restriction on waivers for aerial advertising 
near stadiums is repealed, the House Appropriations Committee, 
Subcommittee on Homeland Security, asked that we (1) describe the 
results of FAA and TSA threat assessments conducted relevant to aerial 
advertising operations and (2) identify FAA's and TSA's processes for 
mitigating the identified threat, determine whether established 
processes were followed, and identify factors that may limit their 
effectiveness. Due to TSA's concern that the public release of our 
detailed findings could compromise aviation security, our report 
detailing the results of our review is restricted. This letter is 
intended to summarize our overall findings and confirm your agreement 
to take action to address vulnerabilities and inefficiencies in the 
background check process for aerial advertisers in the event that the 
waiver restriction is repealed. Such actions could also improve the 
quality of background checks for all general aviation pilots seeking 
waivers of security-related flight restrictions.

To satisfy our objectives, we assessed FAA and TSA regulations, 
policies, procedures, and documents related to issuing waivers to 
flight restrictions and associated threat assessments. We also reviewed 
a sample of waivers approved by TSA and issued by FAA to allow aerial 
advertising pilots to fly over stadiums from September 2002 through 
February 2003, and interviewed responsible FAA and TSA officials. We 
conducted our work between November 2003 and February 2004 in 
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results in Brief:

While TSA does not believe aerial advertising aircraft pose a 
significant threat, TSA's summary assessment of general 
aviation[Footnote 3] concluded that a variety of factors made general 
aviation vulnerable to terrorist attacks. TSA identified that these 
factors, as well as the ability of terrorist organizations such as al-
Qaeda to adopt new and creative methods of attack, highlight the need 
for security of all operations using general aviation aircraft and 
airports, including aerial advertisers. To mitigate this threat, TSA 
plans to coordinate with an industry-led initiative to study security 
vulnerabilities associated with general aviation aircraft and also 
plans to issue a set of "best practices," or recommended guidelines to 
improve security at general aviation airports, as well as a self-
assessment guide for general aviation airport managers to use.

After assuming responsibility for processing waivers for aerial 
advertisers to fly over restricted stadium airspace from FAA, TSA began 
to strengthen and implement additional processes to enhance security, 
including strengthening background checks on aerial advertisers. 
Although we generally found documentation identifying that background 
checks were conducted, we identified certain factors that could limit 
the effectiveness of these checks. In addition, inconsistency in the 
manner in which information was collected to identify pilots and match 
them to the results of the checks conducted made it difficult to verify 
that the background checks were conducted as required. Further, FAA and 
TSA reported that they used additional processes to reduce the threat 
of aerial advertising operations. However, we found that these 
processes were not formalized in agency policies or procedures, and 
thereby, may not have been consistently applied.

To address the factors we identified that could limit TSA's 
effectiveness to secure aerial advertising operations, we recommended 
that, in the event that waiver restrictions are repealed, the 
Administrator of TSA should determine whether more comprehensive 
background checks are warranted to further reduce the threat of aerial 
advertising operations; ensure that documents supporting waivers 
granted for temporary flight restrictions are systematically and fully 
maintained; and disseminate policies defining the process and 
procedures for issuing waivers, conducting background checks, and 
defining the circumstances under which TSA will take additional steps 
to ensure verification that pilots flying over restricted stadium 
airspace have been properly cleared. In commenting on this report, FAA 
and TSA officials generally agreed with the information provided and 
our recommendations. Officials also provided technical clarifications 
that we incorporated as appropriate.

Background:

Following the September 11TH terrorist attacks, FAA issued several 
temporary flight restrictions to prevent flights over certain areas. 
After its creation and assumption of aviation security 
responsibilities, TSA began determining when and where security-related 
temporary flight restrictions should be issued.[Footnote 4] Although 
TSA determines the aviation security risks, FAA retains responsibility-
-due to its oversight of U.S. airspace--for signing and issuing 
airspace restrictions and associated waivers. FAA formally informs the 
aviation industry of such restrictions through numbered notices to 
airmen (NOTAM). One restriction prohibited flights over public 
assemblies and large stadiums to enhance security over events being 
held at these sites.[Footnote 5] Beginning in December 2001, FAA's Air 
Traffic Office began to allow certain pilots and aircraft to operate 
over these events by waiving flight restrictions. These waiver 
processes allowed pilots, such as those flying aerial advertising 
aircraft, to obtain a waiver from the restriction and fly in restricted 
airspace. In the spring of 2002, FAA began to conduct background checks 
on pilots applying for waivers from flight restrictions.

In September 2002, TSA recommended that FAA amend previous NOTAMs to 
clarify the events over which flights should be restricted. Rather than 
all public assemblies, flight restrictions were narrowed to include 
only flights over National Football League, Major League Baseball, 
National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 football, and major 
motor speedway events at stadiums with 30,000 seats or more. The 
restrictions extended 3 miles out from the center of the stadium and 
3,000 feet above ground level. Based on experiences and knowledge 
gained in working with FAA to address security issues following the 
September 11 attacks, TSA developed a process for conducting background 
checks on pilots requesting waivers to fly over these events and began 
processing waiver applications.[Footnote 6] FAA, as manager of the U.S. 
airspace, continued to sign and issue the waivers.

TSA's processes for approving waivers were in place until February 
2003, when Congress directed that restrictions be placed on the type of 
pilots and aircraft allowed to obtain a waiver to fly over restricted 
stadium airspace.[Footnote 7] These new restrictions allowed only 
aircraft having broadcast, safety and security, or other operational 
purposes to fly in the airspace. For example, law enforcement, medical, 
and Department of Defense aircraft were exempted from the restrictions 
as well as aircraft required to fly through the restricted airspace to 
arrive or depart from a nearby airport. This legislation barred all 
other operations, including aerial advertisers, from obtaining waivers 
through February 20, 2004, unless extended by Congress. In January 
2004, Congress passed legislation continuing this restriction 
indefinitely. Figure 1 shows a time line of events leading to the 
suspension of aerial advertising waivers.

Figure 1: Time line of Events Leading to the Suspension of Aerial 
Advertising Waivers:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

TSA's Threat Assessments Found General Aviation to Be Vulnerable:

While the agency does not believe aerial advertising aircraft pose a 
significant threat and are not likely to be used by terrorists, TSA 
concluded that a variety of factors made general aviation, including 
aerial advertising operations, vulnerable to terrorist attack. TSA 
identified that these factors, as well as the ability of terrorist 
organizations such as al-Qaeda to adopt new and creative methods of 
attack, highlight the need for security of all operations using general 
aviation aircraft and airports, including aerial advertisers.

TSA plans to coordinate with an industry-led initiative to study 
security vulnerabilities associated with a spectrum of general aviation 
aircraft (from smallest to largest and heaviest), operating under a 
variety of scenarios, and with a variety of payloads. Through this 
coordination, TSA plans to provide guidance to industry participants in 
an effort to ensure the results provide information that will benefit 
both the government and industry. TSA also plans to issue a set of 
"best practices," or recommended guidelines to improve security at 
general aviation airports, and a self-assessment guide for general 
aviation airport managers to use by March 2004.

TSA Enhanced Security Processes for Aerial Advertising Operations, but 
Limitations Exist:

When TSA assumed responsibility for managing the waiver process in 
September 2002, the agency began taking steps to conduct more extensive 
background checks for aerial advertising pilots than those previously 
conducted by FAA. According to FAA and TSA, FAA began issuing waivers 
to aerial advertising pilots in December 2001 but did not begin 
conducting background checks on pilots until sometime in March or April 
2002. When TSA assumed responsibility for managing the waiver process, 
the agency instituted additional processes for conducting background 
checks, which included more extensive checks of a pilot's criminal 
history and associated links to terrorism. TSA said the agency used 
these processes to determine whether to grant waivers for any security-
related temporary flight restriction beyond only waivers for aerial 
advertising pilots. Despite these efforts, however, we found weaknesses 
in the process used to conduct background checks that could impact the 
security of aerial advertising operations.

In addition to strengthening background checks for aerial advertising 
pilots granted waivers to fly over stadiums, TSA took steps to document 
that these background checks were completed. For the period between 
December 2001 and September 2002, when FAA was responsible for managing 
the waiver process, officials did not track waivers granted or maintain 
file documentation of background check results. As a result, we could 
not verify that FAA conducted all background checks as reported. After 
TSA assumed responsibility for processing waiver applications, the 
agency established a tracking system to document the results of 
background checks.

To determine whether TSA followed their process for approving waivers 
and conducting background checks for aerial advertisers requesting 
waivers, we reviewed a random sample of 100 waivers (of the 900 total 
waivers contained in TSA's internal tracking system as having been 
processed for aerial advertising pilots from September 2002 until 
February 2003) and determined whether documentation existed that showed 
that the additional checks instituted by TSA were conducted. We found 
that although checks were generally documented, inconsistency in the 
manner in which information was collected to identify pilots and match 
them to the results of the checks conducted made it difficult to verify 
that the background checks were conducted as required. For example, 
pilots applying for waivers were organized alphabetically in the 
documentation of one check, whereas results of the terrorist threat 
analysis were organized by a pilot's social security number. In 
addition, TSA tracked the waivers by pilot certificate number in some 
cases, further complicating the process of matching the results of one 
check and terrorist threat analysis to the waivers applied for and 
granted.

Federal regulations require that agency record-keeping procedures 
provide documentation to facilitate review by Congress and other 
authorized agencies of government.[Footnote 8] Further, our standards 
for internal control in the federal government[Footnote 9] require that 
all transactions be clearly documented in a manner that is complete, 
accurate, and useful to managers and others involved in evaluating 
operations. In the absence of a more effective system for documenting 
and maintaining records of the results of background checks and other 
analyses, TSA cannot, among other things, hold responsible officials 
accountable for completing required steps in the background check 
process.

In addition to the background check process used to check pilots, FAA 
and TSA stated that they used additional processes to reduce the threat 
of aerial advertising operations. For example, both TSA and FAA told us 
that they coordinated with local law enforcement officials and FAA air 
traffic control towers to inspect aerial advertising pilots and their 
aircraft and to verify that they had a valid waiver. However, we found 
that these processes were not formalized in agency policies or 
procedures, and thereby, may not have been consistently followed 
related to aerial advertising operations.

In addition to the Department of Homeland Security, we are sending 
copies of this:

report to the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Homeland 
Security. We will also make copies available to others upon request. In 
addition, the report will be available at no charge on GAO's Web site 
at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please call 
me at (202) 512-3404 or Chris Keisling, Assistant Director, at (404) 
679-1917.

Sincerely yours,

Signed by; 

Cathleen A. Berrick:

Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues:

(440298):

FOOTNOTES

[1] Aerial advertising aircraft are small aircraft that tow advertising 
banners.

[2] Pub. L. No. 108-199, Section 521, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 
2004.

[3] General aviation consists of all civil aircraft, excluding 
commercial and military, as well as general aviation airports where 
these aircraft are based.

[4] The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), Pub. L. No. 
107-71,  101(g), 115 Stat. 597, 603 (2001), transferred much of the 
responsibility for civil aviation security from FAA to TSA.

[5] NOTAM 1/3353, issued December 19, 2001.

[6] TSA conducts such background checks when considering waiver 
requests for all security-related temporary flight restrictions, 
including checks for pilots, crew members, and passengers.

[7] Consolidated Appropriations Resolution, 2003, Pub. L. No. 108-7,  
352, 117 Stat. 11, 420-21 (implemented by FAA in NOTAM 3/1840, issued 
Mar. 6, 2003).

[8] 36 C.F.R.  1222.38.

[9] 31 U.S.C. 3512(c).