Aviation Security:

Immediate Action Needed to Improve Security

T-RCED/NSIAD-96-237: Published: Aug 1, 1996. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed aviation security, focusing on the measures needed to reduce potential security threats. GAO noted that: (1) the threat of terrorism is increasing in the United States; (2) aviation security responsibilities are shared by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines, and airports; (3) FAA and the aviation community rely on information from various intelligence and law enforcement agencies, depend on contingency plans to meet a variety of threats, and use screening equipment to detect bombs and explosives; (4) basic security measures for domestic flights include the use of walk-through metal detectors and x-ray screening equipment; (5) FAA is considering passenger profiling and bag matching to ensure that passengers checking carry-on baggage actually board a flight; (6) FAA has mandated additional security measures for international flights; (7) conventional x-ray screening is limited and offers little protection against sophisticated explosive devices; (8) new explosive detectors are being developed and could be available within the next 2 years; (9) the cost of adopting these new technologies will cost at least $6 billion over the next 10 years; (10) recent events underscore the need for improved airline security; and (11) Congress and the aviation and intelligence communities need to agree on a strategy for combating terrorism and funding new security measures.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has taken specific actions on recommendations made in the February 1997 White House Commission Report on Aviation Safety and Security and on mandates in the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996, which address GAO's recommendation. FAA convened consortia at 41 major airports in late 1996, and by mid-December those consortia had completed vulnerability assessments and developed action plans for addressing identified vulnerabilities. FAA is working on establishing consortia at 200 additional airports by October 1997 and the FAA and the FBI are planning to conduct joint threat and vulnerability assessments at all high-risk domestic airports by October 1999.

    Recommendation: FAA should conduct a comprehensive review of the safety and security of all major domestic and international airports and airlines to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their procedures to protect the travelling public.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has taken specific actions on recommendations made in the February 1997 White House Commission Report on Aviation Safety and Security and on mandates in the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996, which address GAO's recommendation. FAA convened consortia at 41 major airports in late 1996, and by mid-December those consortia had completed vulnerability assessments and developed action plans for addressing identified vulnerabilities. FAA is working on establishing consortia at 200 additional airports by October 1997 and the FAA and the FBI are planning to conduct joint threat and vulnerability assessments at all high-risk domestic airports by October 1999.

    Recommendation: FAA should identify vulnerabilities in the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA adopted the recommendations in the White House Commission Report on Aviation Safety and Security as a comprehensive framework for improving aviation security. FAA staff were part of the Commission's staff and provided input. FAA has established priorities for addressing those recommendations that could be done quickly and those that required more time due to the need to coordinate with other agencies, develop technologies, and obtain needed funding. An example of a short-term approach to correct security weaknesses is FAA's establishment of consortia at 41 major airports which have conducted vulnerability assessments and developed action plans for addressing identified vulnerabilities and FAA's actions to establish consortia at 200 additional airports by October 1997. In the longer term, FAA is developing rulemakings for certifying screening companies and for establishing procedures for criminal records checks for aviation employees with access to secure areas.

    Recommendation: FAA should establish priorities to address the system's identified vulnerabilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has adopted the recommendations in the White House Commission Report on Aviation Safety and Security as a comprehensive framework for improving aviation security. FAA staff were part of the Commission's staff and provided input. To implement these recommendations, FAA has established priorities for addressing those recommendations that could be done quickly and those that required more time due to the need to coordinate with other agencies, develop technologies, and obtain needed funding. An example of a short-term approach to correct security weaknesses is FAA's establishment of consortia at 41 major airports in late 1996, which have conducted vulnerability assessments and developed action plans for addressing identified vulnerabilities and FAA's actions to establish consortia at 200 additional airports by October 1997. Also, FAA's Integrated Product Team has purchased and plans to deploy 54 certified explosive detection systems for screening baggage by February 1998.

    Recommendation: FAA should develop a short-term approach with immediate actions to correct significant security weaknesses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA has adopted the recommendations in the White House Commission Report on Aviation Safety and Security as a comprehensive framework for improving aviation security. FAA staff were part of the Commission's staff and provided input. FAA has established short and long range target dates for addressing those recommendations that could be done quickly and those that required more time due to the need to coordinate with other agencies, develop technologies, and obtain needed funding. For example FAA's Integrated Product Team (IPT) plans to purchase, deploy, and test additional existing equipment detection systems for screening baggage if Congress provides additional funding. In addition, FAA is developing rulemakings for certifying screening companies and establishing procedures for criminal records checks for aviation employees with access to secure areas. FAA is also deploying a computerized training and testing system to improve screener performance.

    Recommendation: FAA should develop a long-term and comprehensive national strategy that combines new technology, procedures, and better training for security personnel.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration

 

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