NEWS

DHS Inspector General: VIPR Program 'Bifurcated'

By Matthew Harwood

While the OIG reported that the program has improved since its creation, the watchdog had additional recommendations for the program, including redistributing more teams to high-risk areas, improving its public relations, and increasing its team members understanding of their authority when operating in the mass transit environment.

After reviewing the distribution of VIPR teams, the OIG concluded that some teams are overwhelmed and overextended because of deployments to areas with a disproportionately high concentration of critical transportation infrastructure. This discovery led the OIG to recommend TSA use risk-based methodology to redistribute teams to areas with higher concentrations of high-risk targets.

Again, TSA disagreed with the OIG recommendation.

“The VIPR program regularly assesses the deployment patterns of each team and compares that to the available high-risk infrastructure in the area of responsibility...for each team,” Pistole replied. "To date, the analyses have not revealed operational problems that require redistribution of existing allocations, rather than surging assets as necessary."

Also, all VIPR teams are ready to respond anywhere in the country if credible intelligence necessitates it, according to Pistole. The OIG also noted that the 12 new teams funded by Congress, which should be all operational sometime in September, will be distributed using a risk-based methodology with New York City and Washington, D.C., receiving the most reinforcements.

Public outreach was another matter of concern for the OIG. The report recommended that the VIPR program work on its public relations, stating “"greater public awareness and outreach are needed to enhance knowledge and acceptance of the program." The report noted that passengers felt anxious, afraid, and insecure upon seeing VIPR teams, particularly FAMs dressed in full tactical gear.

According to the report, the OIG found that "Without prior knowledge about the team or its purpose, stakeholers initially received negative reactions and opinions from passengers encountering VIPR teams. Once passengers were more knowledgeable about the program and its intent, they typically viewed the teams favorably.”

The OIG believes crafting a public communications campaign for VIPR similar to DHS’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign could make the public more comfortable with the pop-up counterterrorism patrols and screening. TSA agreed.

Despite weak public relations, the program’s outreach to its federal, state, local, and private partners and stakeholders has been successful, leading to good working relationships and security benefits across the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

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