Aviation Security:

Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System Faces Significant Implementation Challenges

GAO-04-385: Published: Feb 13, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 13, 2004.

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The security of U.S. commercial aviation is a long-standing concern, and substantial efforts have been undertaken to strengthen it. One of these efforts is the development of a new Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) to identify passengers requiring additional security attention. The development of CAPPS II has raised a number of issues, including whether individuals may be inappropriately targeted for additional screening, and whether data accessed by the system may compromise passengers' privacy. GAO was asked to determine (1) the development status and plans for CAPPS II; (2) the status of CAPPS II in addressing key developmental, operational, and public acceptance issues; and (3) other challenges that could impede the successful implementation of the system.

Key activities in the development of CAPPS II have been delayed, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has not yet completed important system planning activities. TSA is currently behind schedule in testing and developing initial increments of CAPPS II, due in large part to delays in obtaining needed passenger data for testing from air carriers because of privacy concerns. TSA also has not established a complete plan identifying specific system functionality that will be delivered, the schedule for delivery, and estimated costs. The establishment of such plans is critical to maintaining project focus and achieving intended results within budget. Without such plans, TSA is at an increased risk of CAPPS II not providing the promised functionality, of its deployment being delayed, and of incurring increased costs throughout the system's development. TSA also has not completely addressed seven of the eight issues identified by the Congress as key areas of interest related to the development, operation, and public acceptance of CAPPS II. Although TSA is in various stages of progress on addressing each of these eight issues, as of January 1, 2004, only one--the establishment of an internal oversight board to review the development of CAPPS II--has been fully addressed. However, concerns exist regarding the timeliness of the board's future reviews. Other issues, including ensuring the accuracy of data used by CAPPS II, stress testing, preventing unauthorized access to the system, and resolving privacy concerns have not been completely addressed, due in part to the early stage of the system's development. The following table is a summary of TSA's status in addressing the eight key issues. GAO identified three additional challenges TSA faces that may impede the success of CAPPS II. These challenges are developing the international cooperation needed to obtain passenger data, managing the possible expansion of the program's mission beyond its original purpose, and ensuring that identity theft--in which an individual poses as and uses information of another individual--cannot be used to negate the security benefits of the system. GAO believes that these issues, if not resolved, pose major risks to the successful deployment and implementation of CAPPS II.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of developing Secure Flight, TSA has developed policies and procedures to ensure that oversight is in place, including the use of the Department of Homeland Security's Investment Review Board.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop policies and procedures detailing CAPPS II oversight mechanisms, including offices responsible for providing oversight, and reporting requirements for oversight information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of developing Secure Flight and defining the requirements for the name-matching system, TSA is in the process of developing performance goals and measures.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop results-oriented performance goals and measures to evaluate the program's effectiveness, including measures to assess performance of the system in generating reliable risk scores.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of developing Secure Flight, TSA has developed plans to test the accuracy of the system and to conduct stress testing to demonstrate that the system can meet peak load requirements.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop a strategy for mitigating the high risk associated with system and database testing that ensures (1) accuracy testing of commercial and government databases is conducted prior to the database being used and (2) appropriate stress testing is conducted to demonstrate the system can meet peak load requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of Secure Flight's development, TSA has taken action to establish a security policy, a security risk assessment, and other steps to prepare for system security certification and accreditation.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop a schedule for critical security activities, including finalizing the security policy, the security risk assessment, and system certification and accreditation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of implementing Secure Flight, TSA has established plans to track the development of the name-matching system to help ensure that it is delivered in a timely manner within its cost constraints.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to use established plans to track development progress to ensure that promised functionality is being delivered on time and within established cost estimates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of implementing Secure Flight, TSA is in the process of defining the specific requirements for the name matching system, establishing a schedule for developing and implementing the program, and projecting program costs.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop plans identifying the specific functionality that will be delivered during each increment of CAPPS II, the specific milestones for delivering this functionality, and expected costs for each increment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: TSA terminated the CAPPS II program in August 2005 due, in part, to GAO's work highlighting critical deficiencies in the program. In September 2005, TSA announced a successor program, Secure Fight, that is more narrowly focused on developing a system to match the names of passengers on domestic flights against the No Fly and Selectee Lists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center. As part of developing Secure Flight, TSA has developed a process to provide for passenger redress. In addition, TSA has embedded privacy specialists into its system development teams to help ensure that the program complies with privacy laws.

    Recommendation: To address the challenges associated with the development, implementation, and operation of CAPPS II, the Secretary of Homeland Security should instruct the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration to develop policies and procedures outlining the CAPPS II passenger redress process that include defining the appeal rights of passengers and their ability to access and correct personal data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Transportation Security Administration

 

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