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April 30, 2014

TSA Body Scanners Must be Utilized Effectively

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines with Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software. As of March 2014, TSA has deployed approximately 740 machines at 160 airports across the nation. GAO estimates that over $3.5 billion will be spent in life cycle costs on current units and additional units TSA intends to procure in the future. The report, entitled "Advanced Imaging Technology: TSA Needs Additional Information before Procuring Next-Generation Systems" (GAO-14-537), found that TSA does not utilize operational data on the use of the machines that it could use to directly increase efficiency and effectiveness.

The GAO found:

  • At approximately half of the airports utilizing AIT, TSA does not conduct mandatory weekly Improvised Explosive Device drills simply because TSA does not know what office is responsible for enforcing the directive.
  • TSA does not track AIT false alarm rates, and similarly does not track pat-down rates. This could lead to inefficiencies and excess cost.
  • TSA does use the data it does collect to inform future deployment decisions.
  • TSA does not track how technology, people, and policies differently affect AIT performance in the field.
  • TSA does not utilize information from the private sector and scientific community on how it can meet future technological needs.

GAO made four recommendations to address these findings and TSA agreed with all four.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement with the release of the report:

"This report from GAO represents another in a long list of audits critical of TSA's acquisition and oversight of costly security-related technologies. After failing to adequately consider the privacy implications of Advanced Imaging Technology systems before spending hundreds of millions of dollars on deploying almost 1,000 machines, we must ensure that billion dollar projects take into account proper privacy safeguards and are implemented methodically, with all available information. Since TSA has failed to analyze and utilize AIT false alarm rates, we have no idea how many passengers are being subjected to pat-downs due to technological failures, diminishing the privacy enhancements Congress mandated by law. TSA should not spend a single dollar on additional AIT machines until all of the deficiencies identified in this report are resolved."

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security, added the following statement:

"This report by the GAO brings up several concerns with how TSA has managed a $3.5 billion program. TSA's failure to cover the basics, such as collecting data on the usage of Advanced Imaging Machines, conducting checkpoint drills, and analyzing data on false alarm rates raise serious questions about the agency's use of taxpayer dollars. I hope that this report will prompt the Senate to act upon the bipartisan Transportation Security Acquisition Reform Act which passed the House in December. In addition to mandating greater transparency and accountability in TSA's security-related acquisitions, the bill contains language I included mandating that TSA maintain data on the usage of security-related equipment."

Link to Report

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Media Contact: (Thompson) Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978
(Richmond) Brandon Gassaway at (202) 225-6636