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Homeland security/Law enforcement

TSA's security assessments on commercial trucking companies overlap with those of another agency, but efforts are under way to address the overlap

Why Area Is Important

Terrorist attacks on transportation systems in Moscow and Mumbai caused significant loss of life and highlighted the vulnerability of surface transportation systems to terrorist attacks. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is the primary federal agency responsible for securing the nation's transportation system. GAO has previously reported that TSAhas taken actions to improve transportation security, but additional actions could enhance its efforts, such as consistently coordinating security assessments. GAO made recommendations to improve TSA's coordination with stakeholders, including other DHS entities and federal agencies. Likewise, the Administration's Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment highlighted the need for federal entities to coordinate their security assessment activities given that TSA's security assessment responsibilities overlap with those of other federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation (DOT). The report recommended, among other things, an integrated federal approach for conducting security assessments to produce more thorough risk-based evaluations.

What GAO Found

GAO has found that TSA and DOT do not have a process in place to share information on the results of their security programs, and stakeholders in the commercial trucking industry have expressed concerns about a lack of coordination between the two agencies. Specifically, TSA's security assessments for hazardous material trucking companies overlapped with efforts conducted by DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and as a result, government resources were not being used effectively. After GAO discussed this overlap with TSA in January 2011, TSA officials stated that, moving forward, they intend to only conduct reviews on trucking companies that are not covered by FMCSA's program, which, if implemented as intended, GAO projects could save more than $1 million over the next 5 years. However, it will be important for TSA and FMCSA to continue efforts to improve data sharing and coordination to help prevent future overlap in security reviews, as well as continue efforts toward the long-term goal of TSA assuming full regulatory responsibility from FMCSA for commercial trucking security, thereby reducing fragmentation.

In February 2009, GAO reported that TSA and FMCSA have similar security review programs for hazardous material trucking companies. TSA conducts corporate security reviews (TSA review)—voluntary in-person reviews of a trucking company's security practices and plans.[1]FMCSA, which has primary responsibility for commercial trucking safety, conducts security contact reviews (FMCSA review)—mandatory in-person reviews that enforce the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's regulations on hazardous material trucking companies' security plans. In 2010, GAO continued to identify considerable overlap between TSA's and FMCSA's security reviews. For example, nearly half (43 percent) of the 95 questions in a TSA review were either "somewhat similar" or "substantially or entirely similar" to one or more of the questions in an FMCSA review, and almost all (92 percent) of the 48 questions that comprise an FMCSA review were either "somewhat similar" or "substantially or entirely similar" to one or more of the questions in a TSA review.[2]In addition, officials from both agencies agreed that there are similarities between the two reviews. Furthermore, 71 of the 200 TSA reviews performed from fiscal years 2006 through 2010 by TSA staff on hazardous material trucking companies were conducted on companies that had received an FMCSA review during the same period; of these, 31 were conducted less than 2 years after the FMCSA review.[3]The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 requires that DOT consult with DHS to limit, to the extent practicable, duplicative reviews of hazardous material security plans.[4]

In February 2009, GAO recommended that TSA establish a process to strengthen coordination with the commercial vehicle industry, including ensuring that the roles and responsibilities of industry and government are fully defined and clearly communicated. DHS concurred with this recommendation and has taken steps to address it. However, in August and September 2010, officials from three industry associations GAO interviewed continued to express concerns about overlap between TSA's and FMCSA's security reviews and a lack of coordination between the two agencies. Moreover, in July 2010, the Office of Management and Budget advised TSA to work with DOT to implement an integrated federal approach for security assessments and take advantage of existing information to avoid redundancy.



[1]TSA also conducts corporate security reviews on nonhazardous material trucking companies, as well as entities in other transportation modes. GAO excluded these other reviews from its analysis.

[2]For the purposes of this analysis, the term "substantially or entirely similar" refers to questions for which a trucking company would likely provide the same or mostly the same information. The term "somewhat similar" refers to questions for which a trucking company would likely provide some of the same information, but would likely also provide additional or different information for one of the questions.

[3]TSA reviews were also conducted by state inspectors in five states, primarily Missouri. However, TSA was unable to provide comprehensive data for these reviews, and as a result GAO excluded them from its analysis.

[4]Pub. L. No. 110-53, § 1555, 121 Stat. 266, 475 (2007) (codified at 6 U.S.C. § 1205).

Actions Needed

By taking action to reduce or eliminate overlap in hazardous material security reviews and improve data sharing and coordination, TSA and FMCSA could use their resources more effectively and improve the relationship between the federal government and industry stakeholders. TSA and FMCSA officials have stated that TSA's long-term plan is to develop security regulations for hazardous material trucking companies to replace the existing security regulations FMCSA enforces, which they believe would address the overlap between the two agencies' security reviews. These officials added that once TSA develops regulations, the agencies plan to work together to eliminate FMCSA's security-related regulatory responsibilities so that it can focus solely on safety issues while TSA focuses on security issues. However, TSA is in the early stages of the rulemaking process, which TSA officials believe may take up to 3 years. Until the rulemaking is completed and TSA is able to assume full responsibility for commercial trucking security, it will be important for TSA and FMCSA to continue efforts to delineate their respective security roles and reduce fragmentation.

Until TSA issues security regulations to replace the existing regulations enforced by FMCSA, GAO has identified two potential options for improving data sharing and coordination to address the overlap of TSA's and FMCSA's security reviews in the short term; in addition, TSA proposed a third option that GAO believes, if implemented as intended, should also address existing overlapin the short term:

(1) Improve interagency coordination by sharing each other's schedules for conducting future security reviews, and avoid scheduling reviews on hazardous material trucking companies that have recently received, or are scheduled to receive, a review from the other agency. TSA and FMCSA considered this option worthy of pursuit, and in October 2010 they signed an interagency agreement to coordinate with each other when scheduling their respective security reviews. The agreement is intended to eliminate duplicate visits to the same trucking company that occur within 2 years of each other. However, it is too early to assess the results from this effort.

(2) Enable TSA to access the full results of past FMCSA reviews through an existing DOT Web portal. This increased access could enable TSA to leverage security information on the thousands of hazardous material trucking companies that have received FMCSA reviews without having to conduct a TSA review on them, thereby efficiently increasing the agency's knowledge of industry security. TSA has spent $400,000 since February 2010 to access the Web portal, and according to FMCSA, TSA already has access to data on FMCSA reviews through the portal. However, although the portal does include some data related to FMCSA reviews (such as the dates and recipients of past reviews), it does not contain the full results of these reviews, which TSA officials agreed would be beneficial. DOT officials who administer the portal stated that adding this information to the portal and granting TSA access to it most likely would be relatively straightforward, but doing so would require a request and cooperation from both TSA and FMCSA. TSA officials added that they were unsure whether future budget constraints would allow continued funding for TSA access to the portal.

(3) Discontinue conducting the voluntary TSA reviews on hazardous material trucking companies, thereby enabling TSA to increase its security efforts in other areas. For example, TSA could seek to improve security practices among nonhazardous material trucking companies, as these entities are not subject to the FMCSA security reviews. TSA officials stated in January 2011 that they intend to pursue this option, which, if implemented as intended, should eliminate the short-term overlap between FMCSA and TSA commercial trucking security assessments. However, as stated previously, GAO believes it will be important for TSA and FMCSA to continue efforts to improve data sharing and coordination to help prevent future overlap in security reviews, as well as continue efforts toward the long-term goal of TSA assuming full regulatory responsibility from FMCSA for commercial trucking security, thereby reducing fragmentation.

Reducing overlap between TSA's and FMCSA's security reviews could result in cost savings. TSA's total spending on the 71 reviews it conducted from fiscal years 2006 through 2010 on companies that had also received an FMCSA review during the same period was about $268,000. TSA's spending on the 31 reviews that occurred less than 2 years after an FMCSA review at the same company was about $120,000. Extrapolating from data from prior years, GAO estimated that, over the next 5 years, avoiding TSA reviews conducted on companies less than 2 years after an FMCSA review could save approximately $164,000; avoiding TSA reviews on companies that receive an FMCSA review during the same 5-year period could save approximately $373,000; and eliminating all TSA reviews on hazardous material trucking companies could save over $1 million.[1] Reducing overlap between the two agencies' security reviews could also improve their relationship with the commercial trucking industry. As industry observes more coordination among federal agencies, trucking companies may be more willing to participate in voluntary security initiatives and share information with federal stakeholders.



[1]All estimated costs are reported in 2010 dollars and based on TSA estimates of the staff time, staff salaries, and travel costs associated with conducting TSA reviews. While eliminating some or all TSA reviews could result in cost savings, it may also result in the loss of some security information, since TSA reviews do not completely duplicate FMCSA reviews. Additionally, GAO identified 84 FMCSA reviews from fiscal years 2006 through 2010on trucking companies that had also received a TSA review during the same time period. Of these FMCSA reviews, 21 were conducted less than 2 years after a TSA review. However, FMCSA was unable to provide cost estimates for its security reviews, so GAO could not calculate the cost associated with this overlap. Moreover, FMCSA conducted more than 9,000 reviews during the same period, and less than 1 percent of these reviews overlapped with a TSA review.

Framework for Analysis

The information contained in this analysis is based on a previously issued report, noted on the "Related GAO Products" tab, and recent efforts to update that work. To update that information and identify continuing issues related to overlap in commercial trucking security assessments, GAO interviewed officials from TSA, FMCSA, and other agencies, as well as officials from three key industry groups that represent a large portion of the trucking industry.[1]GAO also reviewed prior reports and relevant documentation, including DHS/DOT interagency agreements and examples of completed TSA and FMCSA security reviews. To estimate the amount of overlap in trucking company security assessments, GAO compared the 95 questions in TSA's hazardous material corporate security review protocol with the 48 questions in FMCSA's security contact review protocol and assessed their similarity using three categories: substantially or entirely similar, somewhat similar, and not at all or slightly similar.[2]To determine the extent to which TSA's and FMCSA's security reviews were conducted on the same companies, GAO analyzed TSA and FMCSA data on reviews conducted from fiscal years 2006 through 2010. GAO reviewed the data for obvious errors and spoke with knowledgeable officials to determine that the data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of its review. GAO estimated the cost of overlapping security reviews on hazardous material trucking companies by using TSA data on (1) the number of TSA reviews conducted from fiscal years 2006 through 2010 and (2) the staff time, estimated staff salaries, and estimated travel costs associated with conducting these reviews. Cost estimates do not include indirect costs, such as general administrative costs. GAO estimated the potential financial savings associated with eliminating overlapping security reviews by (1) estimating the average annual number of reviews, and (2) multiplying by the estimated cost of conducting a review. GAO reviewed the data for obvious errors and spoke with knowledgeable TSA officials to determine that the data were sufficiently reliable to provide a general indication of costs and potential savings.



[1]These three stakeholder groups were the American Trucking Associations, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

[2]GAO categorized each question based on its assessment of the similarity of the information that trucking companies would likely provide in response to that question. Specifically, if GAO determined that, in response to a TSA review question, a company would likely provide the same or mostly the same information as it would in response to an FMCSA review question (and vice versa), those questions were considered "substantially or entirely similar." If GAO determined that a company would likely provide some of the same information in response to a TSA review question as it would in response to an FMCSA review question (and vice versa)-but would likely also provide additional or different information for one of the questions that likely would not be provided for the other-those questions were considered "somewhat similar." If GAO determined that a company would likely provide mostly or completely different information in responding to a TSA review question relative to an FMCSA review question (and vice versa), those questions were considered "not at all or slightly similar."

Area Contact

For additional information about this area, contact Steve Lord at (202) 512-4379 or lords@gao.gov.

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