Aviation Security Technology: TSA Lacks Outcome-oriented Performance Measures and Data to Help Reach Objectives to Diversify its Marketplace

GAO-21-146 Published: Mar 03, 2021. Publicly Released: Mar 03, 2021.
Jump To:
Fast Facts

The Transportation Security Administration relies on technologies—such as explosives detection systems—to help secure the travel of about 2.8 million passengers every day. TSA has developed a required strategy with 12 initiatives to promote innovation in security technology and get more diverse small businesses into the market.

We found this strategy includes the required elements, such as the identification of barriers to entering the market that small businesses face. However, TSA hasn't developed ways to effectively measure how well each is working.

We recommended developing these measurements of effectiveness and more.

airport security area

Skip to Highlights
Highlights

What GAO Found

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) January 2020 TSA Efforts to Diversify Security Technology (strategy) addresses the requirements of the 2018 TSA Modernization Act (the Act) and outlines 12 strategic initiatives to increase small business participation in its marketplace. Moreover, the strategy's initiatives are generally consistent with common practices cited by comparable federal agencies, including vendor outreach and linking small businesses together with bigger contractors.

TSA has not developed outcome-oriented performance measures, such as baseline goals or target timeframes to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives in its strategy. While TSA collects some output metrics on its initiatives, leading practices note that outcome-based measures can help track progress in meeting goals. TSA also has not collected data on small businesses' progress across its acquisition phases, such as capturing the overall time, costs, and ability to meet security requirements. Federal standards call for the use of quality information to achieve objectives. Small businesses GAO met with told us they continue to face challenges entering TSA's marketplace—such as navigating it's testing and evaluation process and identifying security requirements—despite TSA's efforts to address them through ongoing and planned initiatives. Developing outcome-oriented performance measures and collecting data, will better position TSA to assess the effectiveness of its initiatives to diversify its security technology marketplace.

Examples of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Security-Related Technologies

Examples of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Security-Related Technologies

Why GAO Did This Study

With the ongoing threat of terrorism, TSA is looking to innovative technologies to improve security. In response to the Act, TSA developed a strategy to promote innovation and increase small business participation in its security technology marketplace.

The Act includes a provision for GAO to review this strategy. This report examines, among other things, (1) the extent to which TSA's strategy includes the statutory requirements of the Act and compares to common practices of federal agencies to increase small business participation and (2) the extent to which TSA has performance measures and data to assess the effectiveness of its initiatives.

GAO compared TSA's strategy to statutory requirements and practices of comparable federal agencies; interviewed TSA and federal officials from five selected agencies responsible for small and disadvantaged business programs, and a nongeneralizable set of small businesses selected to provide various perspectives on participating in TSA's acquisition processes; and analyzed data from the Federal Procurement Data System–Next Generation.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

GAO is making two recommendations, including that TSA (1) develop outcome-oriented performance measures and (2) collect data, where appropriate, on small businesses' progress across TSA's acquisition phases.

DHS concurred with our recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Transportation Security Administration The TSA Administrator should develop outcome-oriented performance measures to help TSA assess the effectiveness of its strategic initiatives in diversifying its marketplace. (Recommendation 1)
Open
TSA response: Concur. TSA's Office of Strategy, Policy Coordination, and Innovation (SP&I) leads TSA's effort to assess the effectiveness of the 12 initiatives to increase small business participation in the security technology marketplace. As of March 2021, SP&I plans to develop outcome-oriented performance measures and methodologies to assess the effectiveness of diversifying its marketplace and intends to tracks this information for senior leadership on a quarterly basis using a dashboard or similar method. As of August 2021, TSA identified performance measures under development to assess the effectiveness of the 12 initiatives including: (1) completion of an Interagency Technology Roadmap of desired capabilities milestones; (2) the percentage of DHS Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Showcase vendors awarded contracts; and (3) completion of lessons learned for improved outreach to small vendors. TSA reported that SP&I is also in the process of developing an Innovation Pipeline, which is a repeatable and scalable process that will help track identified metrics and expand the ecosystem of the transportation marketplace. According to TSA, once complete, the Innovation Pipeline will be self-regulating and allow for evidence-based innovation through: (1) problem sourcing; (2) problem curation; (3) problem validation; (4) solution discovery; (5) solution incubation; (6) scaling; and (7) transition. TSA plans to refine these performance metrics under development and provide an update by the end of February 2022.
Transportation Security Administration The TSA Administrator should collect data, where appropriate, on small businesses' progress across its acquisition phases to determine how, where, and when it can better target its strategic initiatives or if other initiatives should be considered. (Recommendation 2)
Open
TSA response: Concur. TSA's Office of Strategy, Policy Coordination, and Innovation (SP&I) leads an effort to evaluate existing data collection measures and methodologies. As of March 2021, TSA is in the process of exploring new measures and methods to monitor small businesses' progress in the security technology acquisitions lifecycle. As of August 2021, TSA continues focusing on ways to attract a more comprehensive collection of solutions and, where applicable, spur the marketplace with available tools. For example, TSA's SP&I and Offices of Requirements and Capabilities Analysis , Acquisition Program Management, and Contracting and Procurement, are examining the security technology acquisitions lifecycle of checkpoint technology components to identify opportunities to increase the diversity of the marketplace. Moreover, TSA plans to promote open architecture where possible in security technology acquisitions to provide potential opportunities for small business innovators determine what metrics will help monitor TSA's progress. According to TSA, SP&I anticipates the Innovation Pipeline will be able to assist with the data collection in this endeavor, and measure small businesses' progress against the phases of the Innovation Pipeline and the Acquisition Lifecycle to better target strategic initiatives, or determine if other strategic initiatives should be considered. TSA plans to refine these data collection efforts under development and provide an update by the end of February 2022.

Full Report

GAO Contacts