Transportation Security Information Sharing:

Stakeholders Generally Satisfied but TSA Could Improve Analysis, Awareness, and Accountability

GAO-12-44: Published: Nov 21, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2011.

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The U.S. transportation system, comprised of aviation, freight rail, highway, maritime, mass transit and passenger rail, and pipelines, moves billions of passengers and millions of tons of goods each year. Disrupted terrorist attacks involving rail and air cargo in 2010 demonstrate the importance of effective information sharing with transportation security stakeholders. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is the lead agency responsible for communicating security-related information with all modes. In response to the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, GAO assessed 1) the satisfaction of transportation stakeholders with the quality of TSA's transportation security information products, 2) satisfaction with mechanisms used to disseminate them, and 3) the extent to which TSA's roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. GAO surveyed 335 aviation, rail, and highway stakeholders (with an 82 percent response rate); reviewed agency planning documents; and interviewed industry associations, transportation stakeholders, and Department of Homeland Security officials. An electronic supplement to this report--GAO-12-67SP--provides survey results.

Transportation stakeholders who GAO surveyed were generally satisfied with TSA's security-related information products, but identified opportunities to improve the quality and availability of the disseminated information. TSA developed a series of products to share security-related information with transportation stakeholders such as annual modal threat assessments that provide an overview of threats to each transportation mode--including aviation, rail, and highway--and related infrastructure. Fifty-seven percent of the stakeholders (155 of 275 who answered this question) indicated that they were satisfied with the products they receive. However, stakeholders who receive these products were least satisfied with the actionability of the information--the degree to which the products enabled stakeholders to adjust their security measures. They noted that they prefer products with more analysis, such as trend analysis of incidents or suggestions for improving security arrangements. Further, not all stakeholders received the products. For example, 48 percent (128 of 264) of the stakeholders reported that they did not receive a security assessment in 2010, such as TSA's annual modal threat assessment. Improving the analysis and availability of security-related information products would help enhance stakeholders' ability to position themselves to protect against threats. Stakeholders who obtained security-related information through TSA's Web-based mechanisms were generally satisfied, but almost 60 percent (158 of 266) of stakeholders GAO surveyed had never heard of the Homeland Security Information Sharing Network Critical Sectors portal (HSIN-CS). DHS views HSIN as the primary mechanism for sharing security-related information with critical sectors, including transportation stakeholders. Forty-three percent of rail stakeholders, 28 percent of highway stakeholders, and 72 percent of aviation stakeholders--who consider TSA's aviation Web Boards as their primary information-sharing mechanism--had not heard of HSIN-CS. Among the 55 stakeholders that had logged on to HSIN-CS, concerns were raised with the ability to locate information using the mechanism. Increasing awareness and functionality of HSIN-CS could help ensure that stakeholders receive security information, including TSA products. Defining and documenting the roles and responsibilities for information sharing among TSA offices could help strengthen information-sharing efforts. Officials from TSA's Office of Intelligence consider TSA's Transportation Sector Network Management offices to be key conduits for providing security-related information directly to stakeholders. However, officials from these offices differed in their understanding of their roles. For instance, officials told GAO that their role was to communicate policy and regulatory information, rather than threat-related information. While TSA officials look to the current Transportation Security Information Sharing Plan for guidance, it does not include key elements of the approach that TSA uses to communicate security-related information to stakeholders. For example, it does not describe the roles of TSA's Field Intelligence Officers, who facilitate the exchange of relevant threat information with local and private entities responsible for transportation security. Clearly documenting roles and responsibilities for sharing security-related information with transportation stakeholders could improve the effectiveness of TSA's efforts and help ensure accountability. GAO recommends that TSA, among other actions, (1) address stakeholder needs regarding the quality of analysis in and availability of its products, (2) increase awareness and functionality of its information sharing mechanisms, and (3) define and document TSA's information sharing roles and responsibilities. DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help strengthen information sharing with transportation stakeholders and ensure that stakeholders receive security-related information in a timely manner, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration to establish outcome-oriented performance measures to help assess the results of efforts to provide useful and timely transportation security information through the HSIN-CS portal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2012, TSA said that it is designing a web-based system that will collect information on product dissemination and customer feedback. TSA officials state that the system will help them optimize how stakeholders receive information, by allowing them to evaluate the usefulness and timeliness of the information. We will continue to monitor TSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help strengthen information sharing with transportation stakeholders and ensure that stakeholders receive security-related information in a timely manner, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration to coordinate with other DHS components to improve the ability to readily locate information in TSA security-related information products on HSIN-CS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2012, TSA has developed a tentative project plan as a part of the DHS Critical Infrastructure Risk Management Implementation Plan to enhance information sharing. The project plan calls for establishing a team among the DHS, TSA, and HSIN-user communities to address HSIN portal design and protocols to improve the timeliness and accessibility of information including customer alerts when new information is posted. However, this plan has not been finalized or implemented. We will continue to monitor TSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help strengthen information sharing with transportation stakeholders and ensure that stakeholders receive security-related information in a timely manner, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration, in coordination with other DHS components, to conduct targeted outreach efforts to aviation, rail, and highway stakeholders to increase the number of transportation stakeholders who are receiving security-related information products and are made aware of security information available through the HSIN-CS portal.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2012, TSA and DHS officials state that they continue marketing the Transportation Security Information Sharing Enterprise to federal, state, local, private industry, and international stakeholders. However, TSA does not have a plan for targeting this outreach to stakeholders who may be unaware of the security information available through the HSIN-CS portal. We will continue to monitor TSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help strengthen information sharing with transportation stakeholders and ensure that stakeholders receive security-related information in a timely manner, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration, to the extent possible, to address the need expressed by stakeholders by providing more actionable analysis in TSA's transportation security-related information products.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: As of July 2012, TSA officials state that the agency's products report trends, tactics, techniques and procedures in order to help transportation security owners and operators implement more effective countermeasures but TSA does not track the extent to which this type of analysis and reporting is taking place. We will continue to monitor TSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help strengthen information sharing with transportation stakeholders and ensure that stakeholders receive security-related information in a timely manner, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration to clearly define and document the specific information-sharing programs, activities, roles, and responsibilities for each TSA division and provide this information to the appropriate stakeholder groups.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2011, TSA began drafting a written policy to clearly define information sharing roles and responsibilities for headquarters and field offices. As of July 2012, the policy was not complete but TSA officials stated that the policy would address internal and external roles and responsibilities, establish requirements for identifying points of contact, and outline a process for information sharing with external stakeholders. We will continue to monitor TSA's progress in implementing this recommendation.

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