Report: TSA spends $1 billion on bag scanners that ‘may never meet operational needs’

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from good-thing-it’s-just-other-peoples-money department

In a way, “TSA” stands for “The Terrorists Won”. In exchange for endless inconvenience, inconsistently deployed security measures, and a steady stream of intrusive searches and rights violations, we’ve gotten a theatrical form of security that’s more performative than helpful.

Since screeners continue to miss nearly every piece of contraband passing through security checkpoints, the TSA opted to purchase even more screening equipment. Apparently, he hopes no one will say he’s not doing anything about these failures. This is throwing money at the problem. It’s something. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to fix it.

A new report [PDF] DHS inspector general says shiny new scanners the agency bought to ‘fill capacity gaps in carry-on baggage screening’ don’t now, and may never . The TSA obtained 300 computed tomography (CT) scanners, which were supposed to detect a wider range of explosives and make the flight a little less inconvenient by allowing passengers to keep their fluids and laptops in their respective bags. The ultimate goal is safer flight, less hassle at checkpoints and faster throughput. It has not achieved any of these goals, although more than $1 billion has been committed to rolling out CT scanners nationwide.

Instead of meeting its own four-factor test for essential abilities, the TSA’s new toys failed to meet all of the self-imposed metrics.

The TSA deployed 300 CT systems at airport passenger checkpoints that did not meet all the necessary capabilities. These issues arose because DHS failed to provide adequate oversight of the acquisition. Specifically, DHS permitted the TSA to use an acquisition approach not recognized by DHS acquisition guidelines. Additionally, DHS permitted the TSA to deploy CT systems even though they did not meet all of the TSA’s key performance parameters. DHS also did not evaluate the TSA’s detection upgrade before the TSA integrated it into the CT system. As a result, the TSA risks spending upwards of $700 million in future funding to purchase CT systems that may never fully meet mission operational requirements..

Full deployment is expected to cost around $1.28 over the next ten years. And that is if it stays on track and, unlike almost all major government programs, does not result in cost overruns. In exchange, passengers theoretically gain in safety, but only if they are prepared to wait in longer queues.

TSA’s February 2018 Operational Requirements document identified the need for a CT system capable of screening, on average, 200 items per hour to complete the mission. However, we determined that the TSA purchased 300 CT systems capable of scanning an average of 170 items per hour, which is 15% less than the minimum requirement and less than the AT X-ray system’s capacity of approximately 354 items per hour. time.

And you can say goodbye to additional security gains. If things get busy enough, most bags will still be treated the old fashioned way.

DHS has determined that the TSA should either use CT systems during periods of low-volume passenger traffic or use both CT systems and AT X-ray systems to balance high demand and reduce impact on checkpoint operations..

Additionally, CT scanners required an upgrade less than 8 months after purchase, which was to be deployed live during “low volume travel periods”. This upgrade was necessary to bring the machines into line with what the TSA had promised they would be able to do, such as detect contraband and reduce the need to open carry-on luggage.

The Inspector General says buying scanners that will gradually improve until they reach the baseline metric used to justify their purchase is a terrible way to spend taxpayers’ money. And he firmly points the finger at the direction of the department that directly oversees the TSA.

DHS does not recognize “incremental delivery” of capabilities as an approved acquisition approach.

And yet, he still approved this acquisition, which should exceed the billion dollars in the next ten years. DHS greased the wheels for another TSA failure.

Despite operational test and evaluation requirements, DHS allowed TSA to move into full-scale production (“Produce” phase) even though the system did not meet its key performance parameter for throughput. DHS did not ask the TSA to develop a remediation plan or reassess its performance requirements as required by DHS acquisition guidelines. Instead, DHS endorsed the TSA’s decision to accept the CT system in exchange for obtaining the advanced detection capabilities it offered on AT X-rays.

The IG offers three recommendations. Unfortunately, none of them are “take your receipts and get your money back” or “dissolve the TSA”. He strongly suggests that DHS better manage acquisitions by following its own guidelines — those ignored to allow the TSA to acquire scanners that slow down the screening process without offering measurable gains in travel security.

Filed Under: scanners, security theater, tsa

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