TSA Explosives Detection Canine Program:

Actions Needed to Analyze Data and Ensure Canine Teams Are Effectively Utilized

GAO-13-239: Published: Jan 31, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 31, 2013.

Multimedia:

  • GAO: TSA's Passenger Screening Canine Detects Explosive Training Device Inside Airport TerminalVIDEO: TSA's Passenger Screening Canine Detects Explosive Training Device Inside Airport Terminal
    This video shows a decoy carrying an explosive training aid. As the decoy walks through the airport terminal, the canine detects an explosive odor and leads the handler to the source of the odor. After the handler receives final confirmation from the trainer that his canine detected explosive odors on the decoy, he rewards the canine. Produced in cooperation with TSA/DHS.
  • GAO: TSA's Passenger Screening Canine Misses Explosive Training Device Inside an Airport TerminalVIDEO: TSA's Passenger Screening Canine Misses Explosive Training Device Inside an Airport Terminal
    This video shows a decoy carrying an explosive training aid. As the decoy approaches TSA’s Passenger Screening Canine Team, the canine misses the explosive training aid and instead follows another passenger. The Passenger Screening Canine Team provides a response to the passenger it initially followed. A trainer, observing the training exercise, determines that the canine provided a non-productive response, that is, provided a final response even though explosive odor was not present. Produced in cooperation with TSA/DHS.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Stephen M. Lord
(202) 512-4379
LordS@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the federal agency that administers the National Canine Program (NCP), is collecting and using key data on its canine program, but could better analyze these data to identify program trends. TSA collects canine team data using the Canine Website System (CWS), a central management database. TSA uses CWS to capture the amount of time canine teams conduct training as well as searching for explosives odor, among other functions. However, TSA has not fully analyzed the data it collects in CWS to identify program trends and areas that are working well or in need of corrective action. Such analyses could help TSA to determine canine teams' proficiency, inform future deployment efforts, and help ensure that taxpayer funds are used effectively. For example:

  • GAO analysis of canine team training data from May 2011 through April 2012 showed that some canine teams were repeatedly not in compliance with TSA's monthly training requirement, which is in place to ensure canine teams remain proficient in explosives detection.
  • GAO analysis of TSA's cargo-screening data from September 2011 through July 2012 showed that canine teams primarily responsible for screening air cargo placed on passenger aircraft exceeded their monthly screening requirement. This suggests that TSA could increase the percentage of air cargo it requires air cargo canine teams to screen or redeploy teams.

TSA has not deployed passenger screening canines (PSC)--trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person--consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine PSC teams' effectiveness prior to deployment. TSA's 2012 Strategic Framework calls for the deployment of PSC teams based on risk; however, GAO found that PSC teams have not been deployed to the highest-risk airport locations. TSA officials stated that the agency generally defers to airport officials on whether PSC teams will be deployed, and some airport operators have decided against the use of PSC teams at their airports because of concerns related to the composition and capabilities of PSC teams. As a result of these concerns, the PSC teams deployed to higher-risk airport locations are not being used for passenger screening as intended, but for other purposes, such as screening air cargo or training. TSA is coordinating with aviation stakeholders to resolve concerns related to PSC team deployment, but has been unable to resolve these concerns, as of September 2012. Furthermore, TSA began deploying PSC teams in April 2011 prior to determining the teams' operational effectiveness and before identifying where within the airport these teams would be most effectively utilized. TSA is in the process of assessing the effectiveness of PSC teams in the operational environment, but testing is not comprehensive since it does not include all areas at the airport or compare PSCs with already deployed conventional canines (trained to detect explosives in stationary objects). As a result, more comprehensive testing could provide TSA with greater assurance that PSC teams are effective in identifying explosives odor on passengers and provide an enhanced security benefit.

This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in December 2012. Information TSA deemed Sensitive Security Information has been redacted.

Why GAO Did This Study

TSA has implemented a multilayered system composed of people, processes, and technology to protect the transportation system. One of TSA's security layers is NCP, composed of over 760 deployed explosives detection canine teams, including PSC teams trained to detect explosives on passengers. As requested, GAO examined (1) data TSA has on its canine program, what these data show, and to what extent TSA analyzed these data to identify program trends, and (2) the extent to which TSA deployed PSC teams using a risk-based approach and determined their effectiveness prior to deployment. To address these questions, GAO conducted visits to four geographic locations selected based on the number and type of canine teams deployed. The results of these site visits are not generalizable, but provided insights into NCP. GAO also analyzed TSA data from 2011 through 2012, such as utilization data; reviewed documents, including response protocols; and interviewed DHS officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that TSA (1) regularly analyze data to identify program trends and areas working well or in need of corrective action, and (2) take actions to comprehensively assess the effectiveness of PSCs. If PSCs are determined to be effective, GAO is recommending that TSA coordinate with stakeholders to deploy PSC teams to the highest-risk airport locations and utilize them as intended. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Stephen Lord at (202) 512-4379 or lords@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2013, we found that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the federal agency that administers the National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program (NEDCTP), was collecting and using key data on its canine program, but could better analyze these data to identify program trends. As a result, we recommended that TSA regularly analyze available data to identify program trends and areas that are working well and those in need of corrective action to guide program resources and activities. In response, TSA has taken actions to address our recommendation. For example, TSA is monitoring canine teams' training minutes and utilization on both a monthly and annual basis. TSA reinstated short notice assessments in July 2013, and in the event a team fails, the team's supervisor completes a report that includes an analysis of the team's training records to identify an explanation for the failure. In April 2013, TSA reminded canine handlers of the requirement to submit swab samples of their canines' final responses, and the Canine Explosives Unit is producing reports on the results of its analysis of the swab samples for the presence of explosives odor. Further, in June 2014, TSA officials told us that in March 2014, NEDCTP stood up a new office, known as the Performance Measurement Section, to perform analyses of canine team data. We believe that these actions better position TSA to identify program trends to better target resources and activities based on what is working well and what may be in need of corrective action.

    Recommendation: To help ensure TSA analyzes canine team data to identify program trends, and determines if PSC teams provide an added security benefit to the civil aviation system, and if so, deploys PSC teams to the highest-risk airports, we recommend that the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration direct the Manager of the NCP to regularly analyze available data to identify program trends and areas that are working well and those in need of corrective action to guide program resources and activities. These analyses could include, but not be limited to, analyzing and documenting trends in proficiency training, canine utilization, results of short notice assessments (covert tests) and final canine responses, performance differences between LEO and TSI canine teams, as well as an assessment of the optimum location and number of canine teams that should be deployed to secure the U.S. transportation system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2013, we found that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had not deployed passenger screening canines (PSC)--trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person--consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine PSC teams' effectiveness prior to deployment. As a result, we recommended that TSA, in conjunction with DHS's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), assess the effectiveness of PSCs and conventional canines in all airport areas deemed appropriate. In June 2014, TSA reported that through its PSC Focused Training and Assessment Initiative, a two-cycle assessment to establish airport-specific optimal working areas, assess team performance, and train teams on best practices, it had assessed PSC teams deployed to 27 airports, cumulating in a total of 1,048 tests. On the basis of these tests, TSA determined that PSC teams are effective and should be deployed at the checkpoint queue. TSA needs to compare the effectiveness of PSCs teams to conventional teams in the optimal area in order to fully implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure TSA analyzes canine team data to identify program trends, and determines if PSC teams provide an added security benefit to the civil aviation system, and if so, deploys PSC teams to the highest-risk airports, we recommend that the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration direct the Manager of the NCP to expand and complete testing, in conjunction with DHS S&T, to assess the effectiveness of PSCs and conventional canines in all airport areas deemed appropriate (i.e., in the sterile area, at the passenger checkpoint, and on the public side of the airport) prior to making additional PSC deployments to help (1) determine whether PSCs are effective at screening passengers, and resource expenditures for PSC training are warranted, and (2) inform decisions regarding the type of canine team to deploy and where to optimally deploy such teams within airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2013, we found that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did not deploy passenger screening canines (PSCs) to the highest-risk airport locations. Furthermore, the PSC teams deployed to higher-risk airport locations were not being used for passenger screening as intended, but for other purposes, such as screening air cargo or training because of stakeholder concerns. As a result, we recommended that if TSA finds that PSC teams provide an added security benefit, it should coordinate with airport stakeholders to deploy future PSC teams to the highest-risk airports, and ensure that deployed PSC teams are utilized as intended. As of June 2014, the PSC teams for which TSA had funding and not already deployed to a specific airport at the time our report was issued have been deployed to, or allocated to, the highest-risk airports. In June 2014, TSA officials reported that of all the airports where PSC teams had been deployed, all but one airport agreed to allow TSA to utilize PSC teams as intended--for passenger screening. To fully implement this recommendation, TSA needs to compare the effectiveness of conventional canines to PSCs.

    Recommendation: To help ensure TSA analyzes canine team data to identify program trends, and determines if PSC teams provide an added security benefit to the civil aviation system, and if so, deploys PSC teams to the highest-risk airports, we recommend that the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration direct the Manager of the NCP, if PSCs are determined to provide an enhanced security benefit, to coordinate with airport stakeholders to deploy future PSC teams to the highest-risk airports, and ensure that deployed PSC teams are utilized as intended, consistent with its statutory authority to provide for the screening of passengers and their property.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Transportation Security Administration

 

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