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Highlights

Conducting research and development (R&D) on technologies for detecting, preventing, and mitigating terrorist threats is vital to enhancing the security of the nation's transportation system. Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress enacted legislation to strengthen homeland security, in part by enhancing R&D. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are the two federal agencies with primary responsibility for transportation security. GAO was asked to assess the transportation security R&D projects that TSA, DHS, and other agencies have funded and assess how TSA and DHS are managing their transportation security R&D programs according to applicable laws and best practices.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Transportation Security Administration To support efforts by TSA and DHS to maximize the advantages offered by basic research, help select and prioritize R&D projects, better monitor and manage their R&D portfolios, enhance coordination with one another and with other organizations that conduct transportation security R&D, and improve their outreach to transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration should ensure that their transportation security R&D portfolios contain projects in all phases of R&D, including basic research.
Closed - Implemented
In August 2006, DHS restructured each of its R&D divisions to include a subcomponent focused on conducting basic research. One of the missions of the basic research subcomponent of DHS?s explosives division is to enhance detection capabilities through better understanding of the composition and behavior of explosive particles and vapors, and the program has recently completed research to gain a better understanding of homemade explosive threats. As a result of its basic research, DHS?s R&D program is better positioned to help improve transportation security.
Transportation Security Administration To support efforts by TSA and DHS to maximize the advantages offered by basic research, help select and prioritize R&D projects, better monitor and manage their R&D portfolios, enhance coordination with one another and with other organizations that conduct transportation security R&D, and improve their outreach to transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration should complete (1) strategic plans containing measurable objectives for TSA's and DHS's transportation security R&D programs and (2) risk assessments--threat, vulnerability, and criticality--for all modes of transportation, and use the results of the risk assessments to help select and prioritize R&D projects.
Closed - Not Implemented
DHS has not yet completed strategic plans for its R&D related to explosives detection or passenger screening which are two key areas for transportation security. Although TSA and DHS have made some progress in assessing risks to transportation modes, they have yet to complete the criticality components, and they are not yet in a position to use the assessments to help prioritize R&D investments.
Transportation Security Administration To support efforts by TSA and DHS to maximize the advantages offered by basic research, help select and prioritize R&D projects, better monitor and manage their R&D portfolios, enhance coordination with one another and with other organizations that conduct transportation security R&D, and improve their outreach to transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration should develop a database that will provide accurate, complete, current, and readily accessible project information for monitoring and managing their R&D portfolios.
Closed - Implemented
In 2007, DHS began using a database to track the progress of its R&D projects, including those related to transportation security. The database includes information on projects, budgets, expenditures, and achievement of milestones and deliverables. DHS told us that it uses this information during quarterly reviews of its R&D projects to identify issues for corrective action and to reallocate funds among projects as necessary.
Transportation Security Administration To support efforts by TSA and DHS to maximize the advantages offered by basic research, help select and prioritize R&D projects, better monitor and manage their R&D portfolios, enhance coordination with one another and with other organizations that conduct transportation security R&D, and improve their outreach to transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration should develop a process with DOT to coordinate transportation security R&D, such as a memorandum of agreement identifying roles and responsibilities and designating agency liaisons, and share information on the agreed-upon roles and responsibilities with transportation stakeholders.
Closed - Implemented
According to DHS, DHS and TSA completed a memorandum of agreement with DOT in September 2005. DHS also said that this agreement resulted in the formation of a working group on technology standards and research for mass transit security, which meets monthly to coordinate efforts across agencies and optimize resources. This improved coordination helps provide assurance that R&D resources are being leveraged, research gaps are being identified and addressed, and duplication is being avoided.
Transportation Security Administration To support efforts by TSA and DHS to maximize the advantages offered by basic research, help select and prioritize R&D projects, better monitor and manage their R&D portfolios, enhance coordination with one another and with other organizations that conduct transportation security R&D, and improve their outreach to transportation, the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration should develop a vehicle to communicate with the transportation industry to ensure that its R&D security needs have been identified and considered.
Closed - Implemented
DHS said that for its major project to develop improved explosives detection technologies for airport baggage screening, it formally solicited industry on the latest technological developments that may satisfy its requirements; held an industry day at which it discussed technological alternatives with vendors and other industry representatives; and continued to provide direction to inform industry's research efforts based on input from international airport security agencies, the intelligence community, and its aircraft hardening group. DHS also said that its working group on technology standards and research for mass transit security includes the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), whose membership includes government agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, state departments of transportation, academic institutions, and trade associations. As a result, the transportation industry's security R&D needs are more likely to be adequately reflected in DHS's R&D portfolio.

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