Aviation Security:

Additional Controls Needed to Address Weaknesses in Carriage of Weapons Regulations

RCED-00-181: Published: Sep 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2000.

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GAO provided information on aviation security, focusing on: (1) the frequency with which law enforcement officers carry weapons on board commercial aircraft; and (2) if weapons carriage regulations, both current and proposed, are sufficient to ensure the safety of passengers and the security of the aircraft.

GAO noted that: (1) the number of law enforcement officers who fly while armed is unknown because neither the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) nor the airlines systematically collect this information; (2) recognizing that weapons legally carried onto aircraft by law enforcement officers may present a threat to safety, FAA has proposed changes to strengthen the regulation governing weapons carriage and to minimize the number of officers carrying weapons on board commercial aircraft; (3) however, neither the current nor proposed regulation addresses several remaining problems, some of which may arise due to simple human error; (4) weaknesses include: (a) no safeguards to help ensure that firearms are removed from an aircraft when law enforcement officers deplane, raising the potential for these weapons to be used by unauthorized persons if they are left behind, thereby creating safety and security concerns; (b) federal law enforcement officers are not required to document their need to fly while armed, despite some airline representatives' concerns that federal law enforcement officers are flying with their firearms without having a legitimate mission-related need; (c) law enforcement officers who have notified an airline that they will be flying with firearms are not required to have their carry-on luggage screened, enabling them to carry items that may be inimical to the safety of the flight, such as oxygen bottles, lighter fluid, or tear gas; almost all other passengers, including the pilots of the aircraft, must be screened; and (d) there is no procedure for verifying the credentials of law enforcement officers flying while armed; a recent GAO investigation found that falsified law enforcement credentials could be used to receive authorization from airlines to fly while armed; (5) FAA is working with the law enforcement community and with airlines to implement a secure memory card system to better verify law enforcement officers' identity; (6) this technology is currently in use by other establishments and may provide a means to address several of the gaps GAO identified; (7) information stored in the cards' memory, which would be accessed through a specialized reader, could include the law enforcement officer's name, employing agency, and firearms training status; and (8) this system would also enable FAA to document the extent to which firearms are carried on board aircraft.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA's Aviation Security Advisory Committee established a task force to implement the recommendation. The task force developed a plan for creating and testing a Law Enforcement Officer Verification Card. During 2001, the system was tested. As a result of the events of September 11, much of the work of FAA's Civil Aviation Security Office of Policy & Planning was transferred to the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA). According to TSA, the verification card for law enforcement officers proved to be a user friendly, high tech solution to absolutely verify the identity of law enforcement officers flying armed. However, a new effort to have a national "Transportation Workers Identification Card" (a post September 11 initiative intended for a population of 12-15 million) has been proposed as an alternate means for law enforcement officer verification. As a result, the intended program has not been implemented. The larger "one-size-fits-all" card program has been briefed to industry organizations and vendors, but not to law enforcement. The Law Enforcement Officer Verification Card Program has the support of the pilots unions, the air carriers, the airports, and law enforcement agencies, but does not have the support of those who advocate the larger "one-size-fits-all" transportation workers card program. Conversions with TSA officials in August 2004 indicate that the agency has not implemented and does not plan to implement GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: As a means to collect data on how frequently officers carry firearms on board the nation's commercial airlines, to provide positive means for verifying the identity of armed law enforcement officers entering secure areas of airports, and to better ensure the safety of passengers, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to work with the airlines and law enforcement agencies to implement a secure memory card system and publish a timetable for its implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA non-concurred and took no action.

    Recommendation: As a means to collect data on how frequently officers carry firearms on board the nation's commercial airlines, to provide positive means for verifying the identity of armed law enforcement officers entering secure areas of airports, and to better ensure the safety of passengers, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require airlines to screen the carry-on baggage of law enforcement officers in order to detect items that could present a threat to flight safety.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA non-concurred and took no action.

    Recommendation: As a means to collect data on how frequently officers carry firearms on board the nation's commercial airlines, to provide positive means for verifying the identity of armed law enforcement officers entering secure areas of airports, and to better ensure the safety of passengers, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA to develop procedures to help ensure that officers do not leave weapons on aircraft.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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