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Highlights

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) efforts to develop new equipment for detecting explosives and methods to improve aircraft survivability.

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Congress should consider requiring FAA to certify explosive detection equipment as a condition of eligibility for AIP grant funds.
Closed - Not Implemented
Congress considered this measure and decided against it.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to assess the effectiveness of commercially available explosive detection equipment for screening checked baggage by acquiring and testing such equipment at a limited number of domestic airports.
Closed - Implemented
DOT concurred with the recommendation. FAA has completed airport demonstrations and assessments of new explosive detection equipment for checked baggage at the Atlanta and San Francisco airports and at the Manila Airport. A final report on these tests should be issued shortly. FAA has purchased 54 of the tested explosive detection systems using a portion of the $144.2 million appropriated in the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act for 1997 for the purchase and installation of such equipment. Some of these units have already been installed and other installations are under way. In addition, FAA is conducting assessments of other commercially available equipment for screening checked baggage at its Atlantic City Technical Center.
Department of Transportation 2. To improve the FAA certification process for new explosive detection technology, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to require operational tests of the performance and reliability of explosive detection systems at airports during certification.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOT did not concur with this recommendation. While DOT recognizes the importance of airport testing, it believes that issues associated with reliability should be addressed after certification, but prior to any decision concerning widespread deployment of a new device.
Department of Transportation 3. To improve the FAA certification process for new explosive detection technology, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to include reliability criteria in the certification standards for new equipment.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOT disagreed with this recommendation and plans no action on it. While FAA agrees that reliability data are important, it does not believe that reliability criteria in the certification standards are appropriate. According to FAA, reliability, dependability, and cost-effectiveness are better evaluated after the equipment is installed at airports.
Department of Transportation 4. To improve the FAA certification process for new explosive detection technology, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to discontinue the development of trace technology for screening checked baggage until certification standards have been established.
Closed - Implemented
DOT concurred with this recommendation. The role of trace detection technology has changed and is no longer a high priority at FAA for some applications. FAA is scaling back its trace efforts for checked baggage. However, trace technology is now considered critical by experts for screening passengers, carry-on bags, and cargo.
Department of Transportation 5. To further improve the FAA security research, engineering and development (RE&D) program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to evaluate software when reviewing systems' designs.
Closed - Not Implemented
DOT concurred in part with the recommendation. FAA said that it evaluates software in design reviews where possible, but much software is proprietary and cannot be evaluated.
Department of Transportation 6. To further improve the FAA security RE&D program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to place greater emphasis on integrating devices when initiating development projects.
Closed - Implemented
DOT concurred with the recommendation and said that it was placing greater emphasis on systems integration, but believed that it would take considerable time due to proprietary hardware and software issues. Since 1994, FAA has taken several actions to integrate various detection devices in order to improve the detection of explosives, as well as other threat objects. FAA has: (1) certified and deployed the CTX-5000, which uses X-ray and CAT scan technologies to detect explosives in checked bags; (2) deployed trace detection devices that sample vapors on bags for explosives residues and are being used in conjunction with X-ray devices to detect explosives; (3) deployed and integrated Threat Image Projection devices into the existing X-ray devices to improve screeners' performance in detecting explosives and other threat objects; and (4) initiated several R&D projects aimed at developing and integrating various technologies to further improve the detection of explosives and other threat objects.
Department of Transportation 7. To further improve the FAA security RE&D program, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to focus on human factors associated with using new devices, especially on how operators will work with the new technology, throughout the development process.
Closed - Implemented
FAA is now placing greater emphasis on human factors. Since 1994, FAA's aviation security human factors funding has increased 77 percent. FAA embarked on a new training program for airport screeners and is purchasing and deploying at all major airports by the end of 1997 the Screener Proficiency Evaluation and Reporting System, a computerized training and testing system that will help improve screener performance. In addition, FAA has investigated the human factors aspects of operating the CTX-5000 explosives detection system's control panel.
Department of Transportation 8. To facilitate the introduction of new explosive detection equipment, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop a plan, with industry, that provides a strategy for implementing new detection technology during the next decade. This plan should include important milestones and identify roles; cost estimates for the purchase, operation, and maintenance of explosive detection systems; and FAA and industry resources.
Closed - Implemented
DOT responded in November 1994 and concurred in part with the recommendation. In spring 1996, FAA merged this effort with a much larger industry/government initiative that examined how to increase security at U.S. airports in response to the increased threat. The new initiative will examine the implementation of technology for screening bags, passengers, and cargo, as well as other security issues.

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