A July Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on airport baggage screening notes that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) bought explosives detection equipment before completing tests needed to establish benchmarks for detection standards. They did so because testing was proving difficult. That meant the equipment would later have to be upgraded to meet the criteria that could not be set until the testing was completed. GAO noted that the overlapping of test and procurement phases “elevated the risk of poor outcomes,” such as having to replace expensive explosives detection equipment shortly after it gets deployed if it can’t be upgraded to meet new standards.
TSA has agreed not to do that in the future. It’s not hard to imagine, however, that the agency will be criticized for not moving faster to the procurement phase the next time the GAO drops by or Congress holds a hearing.
This tiny chapter in the story of how the U.S. government has handled security since 9-11 exemplifies much of what plagues our policies. As RAND’s Brian Jackson put it in his chapter of The Long Shadow of 9/11: America’s Response to Terrorism, “The insistence on immediate action, compounded by the demand for very high levels of detection and prevention, meant that expectations could not be satisfied by any realistic homeland security policies.”
(To continue reading "Complacency May Be the Real Enemy," from the September 2011 issue of Security Management, please click here)