Aviation Security:

TSA's Revised Cost Comparison Provides a More Reasonable Basis for Comparing the Costs of Private-Sector and TSA Screeners

GAO-11-375R: Published: Mar 4, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 9, 2011.

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Stephen M. Lord
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As Congress requested, this letter discusses the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) efforts to address our January 2009 recommendation to TSA to improve its methodology for comparing the cost and performance of screening services at commercial airports using private-sector screeners under the Screening Partnership Program (SPP airports) and at airports using federal screeners (non-SPP airports). Our January 2009 report identified some design strengths in TSA's analysis comparing the cost and performance of screening services at SPP and non-SPP airports, such as recognizing that cost savings would be limited by the mandated structure of the program, but also identified 10 limitations in TSA's methodology that could affect the accuracy and reliability of the cost and performance comparisons, and its usefulness in informing future management decisions. We recommended that if TSA plans to rely on its comparison of cost and performance of SPP and non-SPP airports for future decision making, the agency should update its analysis to address the limitations we identified. TSA generally concurred with our findings and recommendation.

In summary, on January 4, 2011, TSA provided us with an update on the status of its efforts to address seven limitations related to cost we cited in our report, as well as a revised comparison of costs for screeners at SPP and non-SPP airports. This revised cost comparison generally addresses three of the seven limitations and provides TSA with a more reasonable basis for comparing the cost of SPP and non-SPP airports. However, TSA needs to take additional actions or provide additional documentation to address the remaining four limitations related to cost and the three limitations related to performance that we identified in our January 2009 report. In addition, TSA reported that it does not plan to rely solely on its cost performance study for future management decisions related to the SPP. As requested, this letter focuses on the status of TSA's efforts related to its revised cost comparison of SPP and non-SPP airports.

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