Aviation Security:

Additional Actions Needed to Meet Domestic and International Challenges

RCED-94-38: Published: Jan 27, 1994. Publicly Released: Jan 27, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) efforts to comply with Aviation Security Improvement Act requirements, focusing on: (1) FAA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) assessment of domestic airport security; (2) the level of protection that exists for U.S. citizens travelling on foreign airlines; (3) FAA efforts to improve mail and cargo security; and (4) additional steps that FAA could take to improve its security program.

GAO found that: (1) FAA has established federal security managers (FSM) at category-X domestic airports, defined as high-traffic-volume airports with complex security programs, and security liaison officers (SLO) at high-threat foreign airports to meet domestic and international aviation security requirements; (2) serious doubts exist concerning the effectiveness of FAA efforts because joint FAA and FBI assessments of 18 of the 19 domestic category-X airports do not match terrorist capabilities with the airports' vulnerabilities and FAA has not evaluated the differences between U.S. and foreign security requirements; (3) FAA success in strengthening cargo security will depend on the development of an inspection strategy that ensures freight forwarders' compliance with the new requirements; (4) although FAA has issued requirements to improve cargo safety, it is concerned that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will not effectively implement a security cooperative agreement unless monitored by a third party; (5) FAA could further enhance its aviation security efforts by pilot-testing new security procedures before implementing them, paying greater attention to human factor issues, better utilizing information at its disposal, and providing security coordinators at category-X airports with security clearances; and (6) FAA needs to find cost-effective ways to implement new security measures and technologies and respond to current and future terrorist threats.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has revamped how it collects and analyzes the results of its security inspections. In October 1995, FAA implemented the Airport/Air Carrier Information Reporting System (AAIRS). The purpose of AAIRS is to document and track the results of all FAA airport and air carrier security assessments. AAIRS is to track violations and problems uncovered during the assessments to ensure that they are resolved. Assessment results and findings are to be used for identifying trends in compliance or noncompliance so that future work efforts can be focused on individual or systemic weaknesses.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to improve FAA security inspection and information system to identify trends and emerging problems before they become security issues.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA is now placing greater emphasis on human factors. Since 1994, FAA's aviation security human factors funding has increased 77 percent. FAA embarked on a new training program for airport screeners and is purchasing and deploying at all major airports by the end of 1997 the Screener Proficiency Evaluation and Reporting System (SPEARS), a computerized training and testing system that will help improve screener performance. In addition, FAA has contracted with Northwest Airlines to develop and test an automated profiling system for the airline industry. The automated system will refine the manual process and make it less time-consuming for passengers and airline agents. FAA is in discussions with the other major air carriers about transferring the system to them. FAA plans to have the automated profiling system implemented by December 31, 1997.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to enhance the emphasis and priority placed on human factors, particularly screeners' performance, passenger profiling, and airport employees' awareness.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Airport tests of new detection technologies are under way at several U.S. airports. In addition, FAA is working with several airlines to test other new security measures, such as bag matching, at several hub airports.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to pilot-test new equipment and procedures to determine if they improve security before implementing them system-wide, unless threat levels or other factors warrant more rapid implementation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: After several joint audits by FAA and the Postal Service, and the Unabomber threat, the Postal Service has taken a number of steps to strengthen the security of mail. FAA does not believe additional steps, such as congressional action or OMB oversight, are needed at this time.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to report the results and effectiveness of the joint FAA-USPS programmatic audits of the new postal procedures to a third party, such as the appropriate oversight committees or the Office of Management and Budget.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to the recommendation, FAA examined 425 freight forwarders in 1996 and found an alarming level of noncompliance with FAA regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to use the security plans submitted by freight forwarders to develop a strategy, including the frequency and rigor of inspections, to ensure compliance with the plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has also been eclipsed by the Hatch Act. The Hatch Act requires that U.S. and foreign air carriers implement identical security measures when departing from the same airport.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to analyze the implications of imposing different requirements on U.S. and foreign carriers departing the same foreign airport.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been eclipsed by the Hatch Act, which requires U.S. and foreign airlines to implement identical security measures. FAA is in the process of developing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will implement the Hatch Act.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop guidelines for FAA organizations and the aviation industry on how the similar level of protection provision of the act is being defined, implemented, and enforced. The guidelines should also specify the manner in which similarity with requirements for U.S. carriers is ensured.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA concurred with the recommendation and stated that, in conjunction with the FBI, it would develop a methodology for using threat information in subsequent security assessments made at major airports. In addition, the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996 mandated that FAA and FBI carry out joint threat and vulnerability assessments on security at high-risk airports. FBI is now providing FAA with threat information relating to high-risk airports, and in January 1998, FBI and FAA agreed to assess 31 major airports designated as high-risk candidates, which includes the 19 Category X airports, by the end of 1999. The assessments started in February 1998.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to, in conjunction with the FBI, develop information on threats and the individuals with the capability to carry them out for the 19 category X domestic airports and a plan to reassess the 19 category-X airports' security in light of this information.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The timely flow of information to airlines, airports, and FAA is vitally important to ensure the security of the traveling public. GAO's report found that officials responsible for security at airports were not receiving important information because they lacked security clearances. Therefore, GAO recommended that FAA take the steps necessary to obtain clearances for security coordinators at the nation's 19 busiest airports with complex security programs. FAA has publicly endorsed this recommendation and has established a program with other federal agencies for granting voluntary security clearances. In fact, FAA has expanded the scope of this program to include 74 of the nation's busiest airports.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to take the required steps to obtain security clearances for security coordinators at the 19 category-X airports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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