Aviation Security:

Flight and Cabin Crew Member Security Training Strengthened, but Better Planning and Internal Controls Needed

GAO-05-781: Published: Sep 6, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 8, 2005.

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Training flight and cabin crew members to handle potential threats against domestic aircraft is an important element in securing our nation's aviation system. The responsibility for ensuring that crew members are prepared to handle these threats is a shared responsibility between the private sector--air carriers--and the federal government, primarily the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). This report addresses (1) actions TSA has taken to develop guidance and standards for flight and cabin crew member security training and to measure the effectiveness of the training, (2) how TSA ensures domestic air carriers comply with the training guidance and standards, and (3) efforts TSA has taken to develop and assess the effectiveness of its voluntary self-defense training program.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, TSA enhanced guidance and standards for flight and cabin crew member security training with input from stakeholders. Specifically, TSA revised the guidance and standards to include additional training elements required by law and to improve the organization and clarity of the guidance and standards. Some stakeholders we interviewed and our own review generally found that the revised guidance and standards improved upon previous versions in terms of organization and clarity of the information provided. However, some stakeholders identified concerns about, for example, the reasonableness of applying parts of the guidance and standards to both flight and cabin crew members and the difficulty in implementing some of the standards without additional information or training tools from TSA. Additionally, TSA has not established strategic goals and performance measures for assessing the effectiveness of the training because it considers its role in the training program as regulatory. In this regard, TSA views the individual air carriers as responsible for establishing performance goals and measures for their training programs, but has not required them to do so. Without goals and measures, TSA and air carriers will be limited in their ability to fully assess accomplishments and target associated improvements. TSA recently took steps to strengthen its efforts to oversee air carriers' flight and cabin crew security training to ensure they are complying with the required guidance and standards. For example, in January 2005, TSA added staff with expertise in designing training programs to review air carriers' crew member security training curriculums and developed a standard form for staff to use to conduct their reviews. However, TSA lacks adequate controls for monitoring and reviewing air carriers' crew member security training, including written procedures for conducting and documenting these reviews. TSA plans to develop written procedures, but has not established a timeframe for completing this effort. TSA has developed an advanced voluntary self-defense training program with input from stakeholders and implemented the program in December 2004, as required by law. However, stakeholders and our own analysis identified concerns about the training design and delivery, such as the lack of recurrent training and the lack of a realistic training environment. Also, TSA has not yet established performance measures for the program or established a time frame for evaluating the program's effectiveness.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2005, we reported that TSA lacked adequate controls for monitoring and reviewing air carriers' crew member security training, including written procedures for conducting and documenting reviews of air carriers' flight and cabin crew security training curricula. We identified that the lack of written procedures may result in inconsistent assessments of the air carriers' security training curricula and inconsistent application of the standards for flight and cabin crew security training. Additionally, we reported that TSA did not have documented procedures for conducting and documenting observations of air carriers' classroom delivery of flight and cabin crew member security training. At the time of our review, TSA planned to develop a handbook for its inspectors and guidance for its training staff to use in monitoring and reviewing air carriers' flight and cabin crew member security training to help provide assurance that standardized monitoring occurs. However, TSA had not established a time frame for completing these efforts. To strengthen TSA's internal controls and help ensure that air carriers are complying with TSA's guidance and standards, we recommended that TSA establish a time frame for finalizing written procedures for monitoring and reviewing air carriers' flight and cabin crew security training. Consistent with the intent of our recommendation, in April 2006, TSA established written procedures for monitoring and reviewing air carriers' flight and cabin crew security training. These procedures are intended to address, among other things, reviewing air carriers' crew member security training curricula, monitoring crew member security training to ensure the curriculum is being followed, and evaluating crew member complaints.

    Recommendation: To strengthen TSA's internal controls and help ensure that air carriers are complying with TSA's guidance and standards, the Assistant Secretary, Transportation Security Administration, should establish a time frame for finalizing written procedures for monitoring and reviewing air carriers' flight and cabin crew security training. These procedures should address the process for completing flight and cabin crew member curriculum review forms, determining which standards apply to individual air carriers and whether or not to approve an air carrier's training curriculum, conducting and documenting observations of air carriers' classroom delivery of security training, reviewing air carriers' security training goals and measures, and considering security related complaints from flight and cabin crew members. As part of its efforts to develop written procedures, TSA should examine ways to incorporate participant feedback into its monitoring and review efforts.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In August 2009, TSA officials reported that while they developed guidance for air carriers to use in establishing performance goals and measures for their individual training programs--consistent with another GAO recommendation--they did not plan to review the goals and measures established by the air carriers. The officials said that individual air carriers should have the flexibility to establish their own goals and measures specific to their security training programs. The officials did not view TSA as having a role in reviewing and approving the air carriers' goals and measures. Therefore, this recommendation is closed as not implemented.

    Recommendation: To help provide TSA management with reasonable assurance that its security training guidance and standards for flight and cabin crew members are preparing crew members for potential threat conditions, and to enable TSA and air carriers to assess the accomplishments of the security training and target program improvements, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary, Transportation Security Administration, to review air carriers' goals and measures as part of its monitoring efforts to help ensure that they are linked to strategic goals established by TSA and to assess whether the training programs are achieving their intended results.

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

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2008, in response to GAO's recommendation, TSA sent air carriers written guidance to use in developing goals and measures for crew member security training. TSA stated that the goals along with guidance for air carriers to use in developing their individual performance goals and measures will assist air carriers in increasing the effectiveness of their basic crew member security training. The guidance and standards identify, among other things, that the provider of the training must establish performance goals and measures to ensure that students effectively receive the presented material, and retain it as permanent knowledge.

    Recommendation: To help provide TSA management with reasonable assurance that its security training guidance and standards for flight and cabin crew members are preparing crew members for potential threat conditions, and to enable TSA and air carriers to assess the accomplishments of the security training and target program improvements, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary, Transportation Security Administration, to develop guidance and standards for air carriers to use in establishing performance goals and measures for their individual flight and cabin crew member security training programs to help ensure consistency in the development of goals and measures.

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

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation, TSA developed six broad goals for flight and cabin crew member security training and, in July 2008, communicated these goals to air carriers. For example, one of the goals of the training is for participants to be able to recognize suspicious or threatening activity, corresponding threat levels, and appropriate actions to take. Another goal is for participants to have knowledge of the basic actions to take to defend themselves if physically attacked. Consistent with the intent of our recommendation, TSA stated that the goals can be used by air carriers to help gauge the knowledge that crew members have gained at the completion of training, and whether the air carrier is delivering an effective training course.

    Recommendation: To help provide TSA management with reasonable assurance that its security training guidance and standards for flight and cabin crew members are preparing crew members for potential threat conditions, and to enable TSA and air carriers to assess the accomplishments of the security training and target program improvements, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary, Transportation Security Administration, to establish strategic goals for the flight and cabin crew member security training program, in collaboration with air carriers, and communicate these goals to air carriers to explain the results that are expected from the training.

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

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2006, TSA officials reported that acting on GAO's recommendation, the crew member self-defense training program has established performance measures for use in the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Performance Analysis Rating Tool (PART). TSA officials reported that these measures will provide the crew member self-defense training program with valuable information that can be used in evaluating the effectiveness of the crew member self-defense training, including the design and delivery of the training. Additionally, according to OMB's PART assessment for the crew member security training program, TSA performed a comprehensive assessment of this program and implemented changes that will make the training more accessible to crew members.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the advanced voluntary crew member self-defense training is achieving its intended results, the Assistant Secretary, Transportation Security Administration, should establish performance measures for the advanced voluntary crew member self-defense training program and a time frame for evaluating the effectiveness of the training, including the effectiveness of the training design and delivery.

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

 

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