The Government Accountability Office has been watching the watch dogs who ensure airport screening systems — and the personnel who operate them — are working properly.
The Transportation Security Administration’s office of inspection routinely carries out covert testing at airports throughout the nation. But its procedures and data gathering methods are suspect, GAO said in an unclassified report.
Known as “red team testing,” undercover inspectors attempt to pass threat objects such as simulated bombs through airport screening checkpoints. They also try to infiltrate secure areas such as doorways leading to aircraft or the airport perimeter, the report said.
The tests are supposed to be used to make recommendations to TSA management. However this data is not being properly compiled, GAO found.
“Inspectors did not systematically record specific causes for test failures related to [transportation security officers], procedures, or screening equipment that did not work properly,” the report said.
Without properly recording the reasons for these failures, TSA is limited in its ability to identify and lessen the risk caused by vulnerabilities, the report said.
Personnel from the office of inspection countered that they do not record such information on equipment failures because there is a possibility that the threat item was not designed properly. Furthermore, identifying a single cause for a test failure is difficult since they can be caused by multiple factors.
TSA testing has not expanded far outside the realm of commercial aviation, the report noted. Further work can be done in rail and bus security, for example.
“The agency does not regularly conduct tests in non-aviation modes of transportation,” the report said.