Aviation Security:

Technology's Role in Addressing Vulnerabilities

T-RCED/NSIAD-96-262: Published: Sep 19, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed aviation security, focusing on: (1) vulnerabilities in the aviation security system; (2) the availability and limitations of explosives detection technology; and (3) efforts under way to improve aviation security. GAO noted that: (1) the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has mandated additional aviation security procedures; (2) effective security is limited by the size of the aviation system, differences among airlines and airports, and the unpredictable nature of terrorism; (3) specific unclassified aviation security weaknesses include unauthorized access to restricted areas of airports and carry-on baggage; (4) explosives detection technology is becoming more widely available, but has limitations, including variable effectiveness, false alarms, the need for human intervention, and decreased performance under field conditions; and (5) Congress, FAA, the intelligence community, and the aviation industry are working together to take action to meet the terrorist threat to aviation security.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress and FAA have taken actions to establish aviation security goals and performance measures. Congress enacted the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which required agencies to establish a system to set goals for program performance and to measure results. FAA has developed a strategic plan that includes the agency's aviation security goals and objectives and the strategies that it will use to achieve them. In FAA's FY 1998 budget submission to the Congress, it included performance measures against which its performance in the security area could be measured. With the approval of the FY 1998 budget, Congress and FAA will have taken actions to establish consistent goals and performance measures.

    Matter: Congress, along with responsible agencies and other affected parties, should establish consistent goals and performance measures.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress enacted the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996 in October 1996, which required reports be sent to the Congress on efforts to improve aviation safety. The act required FAA to submit reports to the Congress on a number of efforts. They included reports on the availability and cost-effectiveness of explosive detection technologies, the advisability of requiring hardened cargo containers, the effectiveness of a passenger baggage match pilot program, and changes implemented as a result of the recommendations in the White House Commission Report on Aviation Safety and Security. FAA has established target dates for issuing these reports.

    Matter: Congress should require periodic reports from FAA and other responsible federal agencies on the progress and effectiveness of efforts to improve aviation security.


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