Aviation Security:

TSA Uses Data to Monitor Airport Operations and Respond to Increases in Passenger Wait Times and Throughput

GAO-18-563T: Published: May 17, 2018. Publicly Released: May 17, 2018.

Additional Materials:


William Russell
(202) 512-8777


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

In February 2018, GAO reported that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses data to monitor passenger wait times and throughput, the number of passengers that are screened at each airport checkpoint, on a daily basis and responds to increases. For example, TSA's Airport Operations Center (AOC) monitors daily wait times and passenger throughput from 28 airports that TSA officials say represent the majority of passenger throughput nationwide or are operationally significant. Furthermore, TSA officials at airports are required to report to the AOC when an event occurs--such as equipment malfunctions--that affects airport screening operations and results in wait times that are greater than 30 minutes in standard screening lanes. For its February 2018 report, GAO analyzed wait time data for the AOC-monitored airports for the period of January 2015 through May 2017 and found that TSA's reported wait times met its standard of less than 30 minutes in standard screening 99 percent of the time. Within that time frame, two airports accounted for the longest wait times in the spring of 2016. TSA officials also identified several tools, such as passenger screening canines, that they reported using to respond to increases in passenger wait times at these airports.

Why GAO Did This Study

TSA employs about 43,000 Transportation Security Officers (TSO) who screen over 2 million passengers and their property each day at airports in the United States. TSA allocates TSOs to airports using both a computer-based staffing model and information from airports intended to provide each airport with the optimum number of TSOs. In the spring of 2016, long screening checkpoint lines at certain U.S. airports raised questions about TSA's process for allocating TSOs to airports. This testimony addresses (1) how TSA monitors wait times and throughput, and (2) tools TSA uses to respond to increases in passenger wait times. This testimony is based on a report GAO issued in February, 2018: GAO, Aviation Security: TSA Uses Current Assumptions and Airport-Specific Data for Its Staffing Process and Monitors Passenger Wait Times Using Daily Operations Data. GAO-18-236, Washington, D.C.: February 1, 2018. For that report, among other things, GAO analyzed TSA documentation and passenger wait time and throughput data.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations.

For more information, contact William Russell at (202) 512-8777 or russellw@gao.gov.

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