Aviation Security: Progress Made to Set Up Program Using Private-Sector Airport Screeners, but More Work Remains

GAO-06-166 Published: Mar 31, 2006. Publicly Released: May 01, 2006.
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In November 2004, as required by law, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began allowing all commercial airports to apply to use private screeners in lieu of federal screeners as part of its Screening Partnership Program (SPP). GAO's prior work found that airports and potential private screening contractors had concerns about the SPP, including whether they would be liable in the event of a terrorist attack and how roles and responsibilities would be divided among TSA airport staff and private screening contractors. This report addresses TSA's efforts to (1) provide liability protection to private screening contractors and airports and address other SPP stakeholder concerns; (2) achieve cost-savings through the SPP; and (3) establish performance goals and measures for the SPP.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Directorate of Border and Transportation Security To strengthen its administration of the SPP and to help address stakeholder concerns, the Secretary of DHS should direct the Assistant Secretary, TSA, to formally document and communicate with all federal security directors, current private screening contractors, and entities that apply to the SPP, the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders that participate in the SPP, pertaining to the management and deployment of screening services.
Closed – Implemented
In our review of TSA's progress to set up the Screening Partnership Program (SPP), we found that SPP stakeholders need clear information on what their roles and responsibilities are to be at airports where a privatized screener workforce operates with federal oversight. We also found that the absence of such guidance may, among other things, affect the ability of responsible officials to effectively and efficiently manage screening checkpoints and the screener program in general. As a result, we recommended that TSA document and communicate to federal and private-sector stakeholders the roles and responsibilities for managing screener operations under the SPP. In October 2006, TSA released an information brief to Federal Security Directors (FSD) on the SPP. The brief contains information on the roles and responsibilities of FSDs, private screening contractors, the airport authority, and other SPP stakeholders. Additionally, TSA's requests for proposals for private screening operations set forth the roles and responsibilities of FSDs and private screening contractors under the SPP. Documenting the roles and responsibilities of SPP stakeholders in the FSD information brief and requests for proposals is consistent with our recommendation.
Department of Homeland Security To help ensure the completion of a performance management framework for the SPP so that TSA can assess SPP contractors and to promote accountability of SPP contractors for achieving desired program outcomes, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security should establish a time frame for completing its review of the performance goals, measures, and targets for the SPP so that TSA may apply them at the earliest possible opportunity.
Closed – Implemented
In March 2006, GAO reported that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had developed performance goals and draft measures and targets to assess the performance of private screening contractors under the Screening Partnership Program (SPP), but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had not yet approved them or established a time frame for doing so. We stated that, according to TSA, DHS must approve the draft performance goals, measures, and targets before they can be finalized. However, as of January 2006, DHS had not yet done so, and had not set a deadline for doing so. We reported that until DHS approves these measures, TSA would not be able to finalize and implement performance measures to evaluate private screening contractors under the SPP. Further, we identified that these same measures and targets will be used by DHS to determine whether to award private screening contractors with certification status. Certification status provides the most extensive level of liability protection available under the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002 (the SAFETY Act), rendering contractors virtually immune from all pertinent claims. Consistent with the intent of our recommendation, TSA implemented 14 performance standards, which are incorporated into the six new private screening contracts awarded under the SPP. These standards include measures related to, among other things, screener hiring, screener training, and screener performance in detecting threat objects during training and testing. Additionally, DHS approved the use of seven TSA recommended performance standards, so that eligible SPP contractors may be granted certification under the SAFETY Act if they meet the required level of performance for each of these standards.

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