Aviation Security:

Systematic Planning Needed to Optimize the Deployment of Checked Baggage Screening Systems

GAO-05-365: Published: Mar 15, 2005. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2005.

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Mandated to screen all checked baggage using explosive detection systems at airports by December 31, 2003, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) deployed two types of screening equipment: explosives detection systems (EDS), which use computer-aided tomography X-rays to recognize the characteristics of explosives, and explosives trace detection (ETD) systems, which use chemical analysis to detect traces of explosive material vapors or residues. This report assesses (1) TSA's use of budgeted funds to install EDS and ETD systems and the impact of initially deploying these systems, (2) TSA and airport actions to install EDS machines in-line with baggage conveyor systems, and the federal resources made available for this purpose, and (3) actions taken by TSA to optimally deploy checked baggage screening systems.

TSA has made substantial progress in installing EDS and ETD systems at the nation's more than 400 airports to provide the capability to screen all checked baggage using explosive detection systems, as mandated by Congress. However, in initially deploying EDS and ETD equipment, TSA placed stand-alone ETD and the minivan-sized EDS machines--mainly in airport lobbies--that were not integrated in-line with airport baggage conveyor systems. TSA officials stated that the agency's ability to initially install in-line systems was limited because of the high costs and the time required for airport modifications. These interim lobby solutions resulted in operational inefficiencies, including requiring a greater number of screeners, as compared with using EDS machines in-line with baggage conveyor systems. TSA and airport operators are taking actions to install in-line baggage screening systems to streamline airport and TSA operations, reduce screening costs, and enhance security. Eighty-six of the 130 airports we surveyed either have, are planning to have, or are considering installing full or partial in-line systems. However, resources have not been made available to fund these capital-intensive systems on a large-scale basis. Also, the overall costs of installing in-line baggage screening systems at each airport are unknown, the availability of future federal funding is uncertain, and perspectives differ regarding the appropriate role of the federal government, airport operators, and air carriers in funding these systems. Moreover, TSA has not conducted a systematic, prospective analysis to determine at which airports it could achieve long-term savings and enhance efficiencies and security by installing in-line systems or, where in-line systems may not be economically justified, by making greater use of stand-alone EDS systems rather than relying on the labor-intensive and less efficient ETD screening process. However, at nine airports where TSA has agreed to help fund the installation of in-line baggage screening systems, TSA conducted a retrospective cost-benefit analysis which showed that these in-line systems could yield significant savings for the federal government. TSA further estimated that it could recover its initial investment in the in-line systems at these airports in a little over 1 year.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments to GAO-05-365, DHS indicated that TSA will continue to work closely with airports and all appropriate stakeholders in achieving the most cost and operationally effective checked baggage screening system. In February 2006, TSA produced a Strategic Planning Framework for the Electronic Baggage Screening Program. As part of this planning framework, TSA described how it plans to work collaboratively with aviation stakeholders, including airport operators. In August 2006, a collaborative working group comprised of industry and TSA membership produced a Baggage Screening Investment Study for the Aviation Security Advisory Committee that consisted of a plan for achieving the most cost and operationally effective checked baggage screening systems.

    Recommendation: In developing the comprehensive plan for installing in-line EDS baggage screening systems, as directed by the fiscal year 2005 DHS Appropriation Act Conference Report, and in satisfying the requirements set forth in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration to systematically assess the costs and benefits of deploying in-line baggage baggage screening systems at airports that do not yet have in-line systems installed. As part of this assessment, the Administrator should work collaboratively with airport operators, who are expected to share the costs and benefits of in-line systems, to collect data and prepare the analyses needed to develop plans for installing in-line systems.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments for GAO-05-365, DHS reported that TSA is already in the process of conducting an analysis of deploying in-line checked baggage screening systems. DHS also reported that the analysis will include an estimation of the cost per airport to install an in-line system. In February 2006, TSA released a Report to Congress on its Strategic Planning Framework for the Electronic Baggage Screening Program. In August 2006, a Baggage Screening Investment Study was released by a working group of industry stakeholders and government officials established by TSA. This report describes cost issues and strategies for funding future checked baggage screening systems, including in-line systems.

    Recommendation: In developing the comprehensive plan for installing in-line EDS baggage screening systems, as directed by the fiscal year 2005 DHS Appropriation Act Conference Report, and in satisfying the requirements set forth in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration to systematically assess the costs and benefits of deploying in-line baggage baggage screening systems at airports that do not yet have in-line systems installed. As part of this assessment, the Administrator should estimate total funds needed to install in-line systems where appropriate, including the federal funds needed given different assumptions regarding the federal government and airport cost-shares for funding the in-line systems.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments for GAO-05-365, DHS reported that TSA is already in the process of conducting an analysis of deploying in-line checked baggage screening systems. DHS also reported that TSA officials are working towards development of a variety of automated technology solutions under the Research and Development Next Generation Explosive Detection Systems program. TSA's February 2006 Framework for a strategic plan considers the projected availability and costs of baggage screening equipment being developed through research and development efforts.

    Recommendation: In developing the comprehensive plan for installing in-line EDS baggage screening systems, as directed by the fiscal year 2005 DHS Appropriation Act Conference Report, and in satisfying the requirements set forth in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration to systematically assess the costs and benefits of deploying in-line baggage baggage screening systems at airports that do not yet have in-line systems installed. As part of this assessment, the Administrator should consider the projected availability and costs of baggage screeing equipment being developed through research and development efforts.

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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments for GAO-05-365, DHS reported that TSA is already in the process of conducting an analysis of deploying in-line checked baggage screening systems. In February 2006, TSA released a Strategic Planning Framework which identifies and prioritizes the airports where the benefits-- in terms of cost savings of baggage screening operations and improved security-- of replacing stand-alone baggage screening systems with in-line systems are likely to exceed the costs of the systems, or the systems are needed to address security risks or related factors. The Strategic Planning Framework states that TSA's planning efforts were carried out, in part, in response to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: In developing the comprehensive plan for installing in-line EDS baggage screening systems, as directed by the fiscal year 2005 DHS Appropriation Act Conference Report, and in satisfying the requirements set forth in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator for the Transportation Security Administration to systematically assess the costs and benefits of deploying in-line baggage baggage screening systems at airports that do not yet have in-line systems installed. As part of this assessment, the Administrator should identify and prioritize the airports where the benefits--in terms of cost savings of baggage screening operations and improved security--of replacing stand-alone baggage screening systems with in-line systems are likely to exceed the costs of the systems, or the systems are needed to address security risks or related factors.

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

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its agency comments for GAO-05-365, DHS reported that TSA was conducting an analysis of the airports that rely heavily on explosive trace detection machines as the primary checked baggage screening technology. In February 2006, TSA issued a Strategic Planning Framework which addresses the projected availability and cost of screening equipment developed under R&D efforts. In its July 10, 2006 letter transmitting its responses to our recommendations, TSA concurred with this recommendation and indicated that its strategic plan focuses on optimally-scaled screening solutions to include identification of those airports where replacement of ETD with EDS would be practical.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Transportation and Security Administration should assess the feasibility, expected benefits, and costs of replacing ETD machines with stand-alone EDS machines for primary screening at those airports where in-line systems would not be either economically justified or justified for other reasons. In conducting this assessment, the Administrator should consider the projected availability and costs for screening equipment being developed through research and development efforts.

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

 

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