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Lawmakers Set Sights On TSA’s Technology Acquisition Woes 

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By Sarah Sicard 



The Transportation Security Administration has come under scrutiny for long-standing problems associated with acquiring new technologies.

“It is no secret that the Transportation Security Administration, TSA, has struggled with technology acquisition since the agency was established after the terrorist attacks of 9/11,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on transportation security. It was the seventh oversight hearing examining the TSA since 2011, he noted.

Among the agency’s shortcomings are difficulties planning for future technology acquisition, as well as handling and implementing the systems it already has in place, said Hudson.

The agency’s misfires include the controversial use of imaging devices that many felt infringed on their right to privacy by taking revealing scans, and puffer machines designed to sniff for explosive residues that were widely deployed, but never worked properly.

Members of the subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation that seeks to hold TSA accountable for its acquisition regime.

“My top priorities as chairman of the transportation security subcommittee are to improve transparency and accountability within TSA and lead TSA to a more risk-based, passenger-friendly future that protects taxpayer interests,” said Hudson, who introduced the bill, the Transportation Security Acquisition Reform Act (H.R. 2719).

The bill calls for TSA to create a multi-year technology acquisition plan. It would have to produce reports justifying new procurements and explain how it is using deployed equipment. It will establish small business goals and make the agency fall in line with federal acquisition regulations, departmental policies and directives.

The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., and ranking minority member on the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Marc Pearl, president and CEO of the Homeland Security and Defense Business Council, said, “You cannot continually be a reactive agency. You cannot be a reactive nation to only what is happening today. We have to look forward.”

The TSA thus far has been unable to plan ahead, making the goals of sustainable, long-term transportation security difficult to achieve, he said.

Shené Commodore, government contracts and business manager at Intertek, a technology testing company, cited TSA’s aging workforce, and a shortage of technical experts. These issues could be addressed with long-term planning and better communication.

Further, TSA has consistently come up short in its small business contract quota, witnesses stated.

Dolan Falconer, president and CEO of ScanTech Identification Beam Systems LLC, a technology holding company, said it is extremely important that a small business strategy be implemented. “Effective small business participation within the federal sector requires the full commitment and engagement of the agency,” he added.

“TSA should conduct more requests for information, sources sought, and allow comments on the draft statement of work during the acquisition planning process,” said Commodore. “This will allow for a better acquisition plan that includes requirements that are both easy to understand and yield better pricing from prospective bidders.”

Changing current practices will allow TSA to then seek out small businesses that may be able to supply the necessary technologies to comprehensively provide the nation with adequate transportation security, she said.

The requirements for business involvement up to this point have been “amorphous,” Pearl said. “We need to have them reach out to as many hosts as possible who bring the requirements to the table.”

Photo Credit: Thinkstock, DHS
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