Air Passenger Screening:

Transportation Security Administration Needs to Improve Complaint Processes

GAO-13-186T: Published: Nov 29, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 29, 2012.

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Contact:

Stephen M. Lord
(202) 512-4379
LordS@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

In summary, TSA receives thousands of air passenger screening complaints through five central mechanisms, but does not have an agencywide policy, consistent processes, or a focal point to guide receipt and use of such information. Also, while the agency has several methods to inform passengers about its complaint processes, it does not have an agencywide policy or mechanism to ensure consistent use of these methods among commercial airports. In addition, TSA's complaint resolution processes do not fully conform to standards of independence to ensure that these processes are fair, impartial, and credible, but the agency is taking steps to improve independence. To address these issues, we made four recommendations to TSA with which the agency concurred, and it indicated actions it is taking in response. Finally, TSA officials stated that the agency is undertaking efforts to focus its resources and improve the passenger experience at security checkpoints by applying new intelligence-driven, risk-based screening procedures, including expanding its Pre✓™ program. TSA plans to have this program in place at 35 airports by the end of the calendar year and estimates that it has screened more than 4 million passengers to date through this program.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony discusses the findings of our November 2012 report assessing the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) efforts to improve the air passenger screening complaints processes. TSA screens or oversees the screening of more than 650 million air passengers per year at 752 security checkpoints in more than 440 commercial airports nationwide, and must attempt to balance its aviation security mission with competing goals of efficiency and respecting the privacy of the traveling public. The agency relies upon multiple layers of security to deter, detect, and disrupt persons posing a potential risk to aviation security. These layers focus on screening millions of passengers and pieces of carry-on and checked baggage, as well as tons of air cargo, on a daily basis.

Given TSA's daily interaction with members of the traveling public, air passenger screening complaints reflect a wide range of concerns about, for example, the systems, procedures, and staff that TSA has used for screening air passengers at security checkpoints. This includes concerns related to the use of Advanced Imaging Technology and enhanced pat-down procedures. TSA screens or oversees the screening of more than 650 million air passengers per year at 752 security checkpoints in more than 440 commercial airports nationwide, and must attempt to balance its aviation security mission with competing goals of efficiency and respecting the privacy of the traveling public. The agency relies upon multiple layers of security to deter, detect, and disrupt persons posing a potential risk to aviation security. These layers focus on screening millions of passengers and pieces of carry-on and checked baggage, as well as tons of air cargo, on a daily basis. TSA has processes for addressing complaints about air passengers' screening experience at security checkpoints, but concerns have been raised about these processes. Also, TSA is implementing a Pre✓™ program to expedite screening at security checkpoints.

This statement primarily based on our November 2012 report and, like the report, discusses the extent to which TSA has (1) policies and processes to guide the receipt of air passenger screening complaints, and uses this information to monitor or enhance screening operations, (2) a consistent process for informing passengers about how to make complaints, and (3) complaint resolution processes that conform to independence standards to help ensure that these processes are fair and impartial. As requested, the statement also describes TSA's recent efforts to make the screening process more risk-based and selective through use of TSA's Pre✓™ program.

For more information, please contact Steve Lord at (202) 512-4379 or lords@gao.gov.

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