Fast Facts

TSA screens millions of airline passengers and their bags each day at commercial airports. To do so effectively, it requires its screener workforce to complete trainings on screening procedures and technologies. TSA has updated these trainings in recent years to keep up with emerging threats.

However, we found that TSA has not documented its process for monitoring whether its screeners are taking these required trainings. The agency also hasn’t looked at its training data across years to identify trends that may require action.

We recommended that TSA document its process and analyze screener compliance data across years.

TSA Screeners Working at an Airport Security Checkpoint

TSA security line

TSA security line

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Highlights

What GAO Found

Since 2015, the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) developed and updated screener training to address potential risks to commercial airports identified through covert testing and reports on emerging threats. From May 2015 through June 2019, TSA identified 62 potential risks that warranted review for a potential change in training. TSA made training changes in response to 56 of the identified risks—affecting 40 different training courses. TSA also responded to risks by developing or updating job aids or briefings for screeners.

TSA uses established models for developing, updating, and evaluating its screener training. The figure below shows TSA's process for updating and evaluating its screener training, in accordance with a training development model that is widely accepted and used across the federal government.

Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Screener Training Development Process

HL_5 - 103566

TSA relies on an online database to monitor screener compliance in completing required training at the nation's commercial airports. However, TSA has not documented its process for monitoring screener training compliance, including for analyzing compliance data and reporting and addressing instances of noncompliance at airports. Moreover, while TSA monitors airport compliance rates in a given year, it does not analyze the data across fiscal years for potential trends in noncompliance by individual airports that may warrant corrective action at the headquarters level. GAO found that in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, screeners at 435 commercial airports met TSA's 90 percent target compliance rate, while in 2018, five airports had compliance rates well below this target, dropping 15 to 26 percentage points from the prior year. TSA officials stated they were unaware of this development. By documenting its screener training compliance monitoring process and monitoring screener training compliance data across fiscal years, TSA would be better positioned to ensure it is aware of potential noncompliance trends warranting corrective action at the headquarters level.

Why GAO Did This Study

TSA is responsible for screening millions of airline passengers and their baggage each day at the nation's commercial airports for items that could threaten aircraft and passengers. In carrying out its mission, TSA requires its screener workforce to complete various trainings on screening procedures and technologies. TSA updated its security screening procedures and technologies in recent years to address risks identified through covert tests in 2015 and reports of emerging threats.

The TSA Modernization Act of 2018 included a provision for GAO to examine the effectiveness of TSA's updated screener training. This report addresses: (1) changes TSA made to screener training since 2015; (2) how TSA updates and evaluates screener training; and (3) how TSA ensures screener compliance with training requirements.

GAO analyzed TSA documentation on training development, compliance monitoring, and a non-generalizable sample of six recently updated training courses—selected to reflect a range of training types and topics. GAO also reviewed TSA data on airport screener training compliance rates from fiscal years 2016 through 2018, and interviewed TSA officials.

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Recommendations

GAO is making two recommendations, including that TSA (1) document its process for monitoring screener training compliance and (2) monitor screener compliance data across fiscal years. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Transportation Security Administration 1. The TSA Administrator should direct T&D and Security Operations to document their processes for monitoring TSO training compliance—including those for analyzing training compliance data, reporting the results from their analysis, and actions taken to address the results. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
In January 2020, TSA's formal comment letter in response to our draft report stated that T&D and Security Operations were developing and documenting a control mechanism to document roles and responsibilities for monitoring training compliance at the headquarters and field levels. Further, TSA stated that T&D will record training deficiencies, root causes, and solutions in a training compliance database that will be shared with Security Operations on a monthly basis. TSA estimated it will complete actions to implement the recommendation by June 30, 2020. In May and June 2020, the two offices documented its processes for monitoring screener training compliance. Specifically, in May 2020, T&D developed, documented, and implemented a new Standard Operating Procedure on their training compliance process. Further, in June 2020, T&D and Security Operations collaborated to document responsibilities at the field and headquarters levels for monitoring training compliance, as well as actions taken to address the results. Specifically, the two documents outline the processes by which training compliance data will be analyzed , how results of the analysis will be reported , and how corrective actions will be determined to address the results . As such, these documents fulfill the intent of our recommendation.
Transportation Security Administration 2. The TSA Administrator should direct T&D and Security Operations to monitor for instances of TSO non-compliance by individual commercial airports across fiscal years that could potentially warrant corrective action at the headquarters level. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In January 2020, TSA's formal comment letter in response to our draft report stated that T&D will begin recording instances of noncompliance and work with Security Operations to monitor trends at individual airports and with specific courses. TSA also reported that T&D had developed a repository in its iShare database for this information at the end of 2019 and the agency is currently testing various options for reporting and pulling data. Once options are chosen and incorporated into its standard operating procedures, TSA reports that T&D will begin sharing the reports with Security Operations on a monthly basis. In March 2021, TSA officials told us that T&D is continuing to share training compliance reports from their database with Security Operations and discussing the results with them on a monthly basis. This database allows T&D to recognize trends at individual airports and specific courses throughout the fiscal year. Going forward, this process will enable T&D to identify noncompliance trends across fiscal years and T&D expects to have the first of such analyses completed in July 2021. We will continue to montior these efforts to verify that the T&D is montioring trends across fiscal years and work with TSA towards closure of this recommendation.

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