TSA Making Progress, but More Needs to be Done

By Matthew Harwood

The Transportation Security Administration has made "moderate progress" in beefing up transportation security, a representative of the Government Accountability Office told a Senate committee yesterday during a hearing on the agency's efforts to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act passed earlier this year.

Referencing a GAO report from August,  Cathleen A. Berrick, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for the GAO, said that of the 24 performance expectations regarding aviation security,  TSA had "generally achieved" 17 of them. Recommendations TSA was effective at achieving included putting federal air marshals on high-risk flights, allowing authorized flight deck officers to use firearms against terrorists and criminals, and screening airport employees against terrorist watch lists.

Among the expectations not achieved was one known as the Secure Flight program that involved screening domestic and international passengers against terrorist watch lists.

"[I]f implemented as proposed, [Secure Flight] will bring the process of comparing passenger names against the watch list, now performed by aircraft operators, into the government, and will align domestic and international passenger pre-screening," said Kip Hawley, asistant secretary of TSA.

Hawley said TSA intends to start testing the program with volunteer companies from the airline industry in the next few months, but said that effort could stall if Congress doesn't provide the necessary funding for Secure Flight as requested in the President's 2008 budget.

Another GAO expectation the TSA—and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—could not achieve concerned air cargo security.

"Although TSA has taken action to develop plans for securing air cargo, DHS has not yet developed and implemented screening technologies," said Berrick. "DHS is pursuing multiple technologies to automate the detection of explosives in the types and quantities that would cause catastrophic damage to an aircraft in flight."

TSA said full development of those technologies could take five to seven years.

Berrick also said TSA had not adequately addressed airport perimeter security or access controls, particularly implementing a biometric identification system for access control at commercial airports.

During his testimony, Hawley reminded the committee that half of the tasks necessary to complete the requirements of the 9-11 Act fall on TSA and said that due to a prescribed spending limit, TSA will have a hard time implementing all of the law's requirements.



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