Transportation Security:

DHS Efforts to Eliminate Redundant Background Check Investigations

GAO-07-756: Published: Apr 26, 2007. Publicly Released: Apr 26, 2007.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Cathleen A. Berrick
(202) 512-2757
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Since 9/11, the federal government has taken steps to ensure that transportation workers are screened to ensure that they do not pose a security risk. However, the number of DHS background check programs has raised concerns that such workers may be subject to redundant background check programs. The Security and Accountability for Every Port Act of 2006 required GAO to conduct a study of those DHS background check programs similar to the one required of truck drivers to obtain a hazardous material endorsement (HME). For this study, GAO examined DHS background check programs to identify (1) potential redundancies and inconsistencies, if any, connected with these programs, and (2) actions, if any, DHS is taking or planning to coordinate its background check programs. To address these objectives, GAO examined selected background check programs, interviewed DHS officials and private stakeholders, and reviewed relevant documents.

The six programs GAO reviewed--HME, Transportation Worker Identification Credential, Merchant Mariner Document, Free and Secure Trade, Secure Identification Display Areas, and Air Cargo--are conducted independently of one another and collect similar information and use similar background check processes. Also, each program operates separate enrollment facilities to collect background information and does not share it with the other programs. In some cases, GAO found variations in the fees applicants are charged, as well as differences in disqualifying offenses and renewal requirements between the programs. Redundant background checks will affect program costs to workers and the government, for example through inefficient use of existing facilities. However, DHS does not keep track of the number of those workers who, needing multiple credentials, are subjected to multiple background check programs. Thus, DHS is not able to determine either potential costs associated with redundant checks or potential benefits to be derived from eliminating redundant checks by aligning the background check requirements to make the programs more consistent. Several DHS components are in the initial stages of initiatives to consolidate, coordinate, and align background check programs, thereby potentially reducing redundancies among these programs. For example, in January 2007, TSA determined that the background checks required for an HME, Free and Secure Trade card, and Merchant Mariner Document issued during certain periods satisfy the background check requirement for a Transportation Worker Identification Credential. In addition, the Screening Coordination Office (SCO) was established in July 2006, in part, to coordinate DHS screening programs. In December 2006, SCO issued a report identifying common problems, challenges, and needed improvements in the credentialing programs and processes across the department. The SCO awarded a contract in April 2007 that will provide the methodology and support for developing an implementation plan to include common design and comparability standards and related milestones to coordinate DHS screening and credentialing programs. At the time of GAO's review, DHS did not have a plan with budget requirements or implementation steps, and related milestones for consolidating, coordinating, and aligning its screening programs. Prior GAO work has shown that it is essential to establish long-term action-oriented implementation goals and a time frame with milestone dates to track an organization's progress toward its goals and that uncoordinated program efforts can exceed budget requirements. Further, other federal agencies have background check programs as well. A governmentwide examination of such programs is beyond the scope of GAO's mandate; however, redundancies and inefficiencies may exist in the background check programs that GAO did not examine. Because DHS is responsible for a large number of background check programs, the department might be best positioned to explore--with other federal agencies--possible options to coordinate and align background check programs governmentwide.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2007, GAO recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ensure that its coordination plan for conducting background check investigations to screen transportation workers include implementation steps, time frames, and budget requirements. DHS agreed with the recommendation. According to the DHS Screening Coordination Office, which is responsible for coordinating DHS screening programs, DHS and the Screening Coordination Office signed a contract to facilitate the creation of a Transition Plan. The Transition Plan outlines the projects needed to actualize the Capability Framework, including identification of major activities, milestones, and associated timeline and costs. The Transition Plan is scheduled to be completed in November 2007.

    Recommendation: To help prevent redundancies and inefficiencies, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the plan being developed by DHS for coordinating its background check programs include, at a minimum, the steps the agency will take to align its screening and credentialing activities and include specific time frames and budget requirements for implementation. In addition, the plan should describe how and when DHS will establish and apply a common set of design and comparability standards for DHS's background check programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2007, GAO recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ensure that its coordination plan for conducting background check investigations to screen transportation workers include implementation steps, time frames, and budget requirements. DHS agreed with the recommendation. According to the DHS Screening Coordination Office, which is responsible for coordinating DHS screening programs, DHS and the Screening Coordination Office signed a contract to facilitate the creation of a Transition Plan. The Transition Plan outlines the projects needed to actualize the Capability Framework, including identification of major activities, milestones, and associated timeline and costs. The Transition Plan is scheduled to be completed in November 2007.

    Recommendation: To help prevent redundancies and inefficiencies, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the plan being developed by DHS for coordinating its background check programs include, at a minimum, a discussion of the potential costs/benefits associated with the number of redundant background checks that would be eliminated through harmonization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2007, GAO recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) explore options for coordinating and aligning background check investigations for transportation workers within DHS and other federal agencies. DHS agreed with the recommendation. According to the DHS Screening Coordination Office, which is responsible for coordinating DHS screening programs, DHS and the Screening Coordination Office signed a contract to create and document a comprehensive Credentialing Framework. The framework will assist DHS and the Screening Coordination Office align its screening and credentialing activities, set a method and timeframe for applying a common set of design and comparability standards, and eliminate redundancy through harmonization. Stakeholders in this effort range across multiple components of DHS, the Department of State, and the Department of Justice.

    Recommendation: To help prevent redundancies and inefficiencies and because of DHS's responsibility for a large number of background check programs, the Secretary of Homeland Security should explore with other federal agencies options for harmonizing background check programs within DHS and other federal agencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 26, 2014

Sep 25, 2014

Sep 23, 2014

Sep 12, 2014

Jul 31, 2014

Jul 23, 2014

Jun 25, 2014

Jun 24, 2014

Looking for more? Browse all our products here