NEWS

TSA's "Secure Flight" Launches Friday Amid Auditors' Concerns

By Matthew Harwood

Secure Flight, the third iteration of the federal government's decade-old effort to screen commercial airline pasengers against terrorist watch lists, takes off Friday, one day after the Government Accountability Office (GAO ) told Congress that the program still needs work.

Airlines will begin asking passengers to make flight reservations using the exact name on their government-issued identification. As implementation proceeds, travelers will be required to provide their date of birth and gender. If travelers have experienced previous false matches, they may also provide a TSA-issued redress number to expedite vetting.

GAO reported that it has not recieved TSA's assurance that the program would remain under budget and reach full implementation on schedule next year. TSA's original cost estimate of $1.36 billion is "not comprehensive, fully accurate, or credible," GAO found, further citing TSA's failure to develop plans to periodically assess the program's name-matching accuracy.

Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman, told Security Management Friday represents the first step in a phased approach toward making Secure Flight fully operational by early 2010 for all domestic flights and by late 2010 for all international flights.

The Federal Aviation Administration launched its Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS ) in the late 1990s. Nine of the 19 9-11 hijackers were flagged under CAPPS when they checked in for their flights, either based on their names or for failure to provide adequate identification. But all were cleared either because they had no checked bags or  their checked bags were screened, according to the 9-11 Commission.

After 9-11, the newly established TSA launched the ill-fated CAPPS II, under which airlines maintained responsibility for passenger vetting. Poor administration and the use of several unconsoldated watch lists led to rampant false matches, even affecting members of Congress.

The TSA cancelled CAPPS II in 2004 and rebranded it in 2005 as Secure Flight, acting on the 9-11 Commission recommendation to move screeing responsibility from airlines to the government, who will recieve passengers information from carriers. Congress, however, placed ten conditions on Secure Flight, of which GAO said this week that TSA had satisfied all but one, covering cost estimates and plans.

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