Screening Partnership Program:

TSA's Cost and Performance Independent Study

GAO-15-612R: Published: Jun 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Jun 10, 2015.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Jennifer A. Grover
(202) 512-7141
GroverJ@gao.gov

 

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

What GAO Found

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) awarded a contract to conduct an independent study (the Study) of, among other things, the costs of screening at airports participating in TSA's Screening Partnership Program (SPP) and federalized (non-SPP) airports. The Study's comparison of the costs of providing screening services at SPP and non-SPP airports has some strengths, such as comparing costs consistently between SPP and non-SPP airports. However, based on our comparison of the Study against best practices, our analysis suggests that the Study's cost assessment has limitations that affect its accuracy and credibility. For example, to develop 5-year estimates, the Study uses data from a single year (fiscal year 2013), which do not account for variables that can change from year to year such as staffing and wages.

The Study also compared the performance of screeners at SPP and non-SPP airports. The Study's comparison of the performance of screeners at SPP and screeners at non-SPP airports has some strengths, such as recognizing the challenge of assessing performance across airports, given the unique characteristics of each airport. However, based on generally accepted research standards, our analysis suggests that the Study's performance comparison has limitations that affect the ability to draw conclusions that are supported by the data analysis. For example, the Study draws conclusions for all airports studied based on analysis where data were not available for many airports. 

Why GAO Did This Study

TSA maintains a federal workforce of screeners at a majority of the nation's commercial airports and oversees a smaller workforce of private screeners employed by companies under contract to TSA at airports that participate in the SPP. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, Public Law 113-76, directed TSA to allocate resources for an independent study of the cost and performance of screening at non-SPP airports in comparison with the cost and performance of screening at SPP airports. Specifically, the study was to include, but was not limited to, security effectiveness, cost, throughput, wait times, management efficiencies, and customer satisfaction. TSA awarded a contract to conduct an independent study comparing the cost and performance of screening at non-SPP airports with the cost and performance of screening at SPP airports. The Study was completed in November 2014.

The Explanatory Statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014, Public Law 113-76, directed TSA to allocate resources for an independent study of the cost and performance of screening at non-SPP airports in comparison with the cost and performance of screening at SPP airports. Specifically, the study was to include, but was not limited to, security effectiveness, cost, throughput, wait times, management efficiencies, and customer satisfaction. TSA awarded a contract to conduct an independent study comparing the cost and performance of screening at non-SPP airports with the cost and performance of screening at SPP airports. The Study was completed in November 2014. The Explanatory Statement further provided that GAO shall report on the strengths and weaknesses of the independent study TSA funded on the performance of screening at non-SPP airports compared with screening at SPP airports. GAO reported on (1) the strengths and limitations of the independent study's comparison of the estimated cost of screening at SPP and non-SPP airports and (2) the strengths and limitations of the independent study's comparison of the performance of screeners at SPP and non-SPP airports. GAO determined the strengths and limitations of the Study's assessment of the costs of operating SPP and non-SPP airports by comparing the Study's methodological approach against best practices GAO has identified in its Cost Estimating and Assessment Guide.

GAO determined the strengths and limitations of the Study's assessment of the performance of SPP and non-SPP airports by comparing the Study's methodological approach against generally accepted research standards related to study design, measurement, analysis and reporting. The strengths and limitations included in the report are limited to the information provided in the Study based on the criteria GAO applied.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations. GAO provided a draft to the Secretary of Homeland Security and the contractor that conducted the Study for their review and comment. DHS had no comments and the contractor provided technical comments. In general, the contractor’s comments indicated that our draft report did not include some of the study’s strengths and disagreed with some of the limitations we identified. GAO continues to believe the report findings are valid as discussed further in its report.

Oct 17, 2017

Oct 11, 2017

Oct 4, 2017

Sep 27, 2017

Sep 26, 2017

Sep 25, 2017

Sep 12, 2017

Sep 11, 2017

Sep 7, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here