Saturday, February 20, 2016

GAO Chides TSA for Failure to Place Bomb Dogs at Airport Checkpoints

A report of the Government Accountability Office published February 17, 2016, summarizes recommendations the GAO has made since 2003 concerning the Transportation Security Administration's security-related technology acquisitions (GAO-16-276).  The GAO report contains the following chart, which indicates that TSA has failed to implement a total of seven GAO recommendations, two from 2004, one from 2012, one from 2013, and three from 2014.  
GAO Recommendations on TSA Acquisitions 2003-2015

Most of the unimplemented recommendations have nothing to do with dogs, but two that were made in 2013 concerned explosive detection dogs for passenger screening.  One recommendation was that TSA should determine the effectiveness of dogs in passenger screening.  The GAO had stated in two prior reports (GAO-13-239 and GAO-14-695T) that passenger screening canines sometimes misidentified which individuals were actually carrying explosives at airports.  This was discussed in several prior blogs (February 18, 2013; January 22, 2015) and the GAO even released a video clip (scroll down in blog of January 22, 2015) of one of its tests showing a dog passing by a decoy carrying an explosive odor and alerting to an innocent passenger walking through a terminal.  Despite this obvious problem, the GAO now says that TSA has appropriately determined the effectiveness of TSA-deployed canines.  It would be useful for the public's peace of mind to know what changed in the last few years to lead the GAO to place its stamp of approval on TSA canines, but we may have to wait a long time for any significant information about this.

The other recommendation that was made in 2013, but which has not been fully implemented according to the GAO, concerns the location of passenger-screening canines throughout airports.  The 2013 report had much to say about this, but the 2016 report only indicates that passenger-screening dogs are not being used at checkpoints. Again, the current report provides little detail on the present level of this deficiency.  If TSA is resisting the idea of deploying dogs at checkpoints, this may have more to do with concerns that clogged checkpoints would become even more clogged with dogs present.  A highly publicized letter from Miguel Southwell, General Manager of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to Peter Neffenger, TSA Administrator, states that if TSA cannot speed up checkpoint screening, the Atlanta airport may replace TSA screeners with private contractors.  How this might affect canine operations throughout the airport is not clear, but TSA may not want to signal at this time that it will add more steps to the checkpoint process.  Rather than re-analyzing the issues regarding TSA canine deployments with such little information to go on, I have chosen to add a brief discussion to the Update Notes in the prior blog posted February 18, 2013