Poor Maintenance Could Make that Airport Scanner a Dud
Policy + Politics

Poor Maintenance Could Make that Airport Scanner a Dud

  • Auditors Hit TSA for Lax Oversight of $1.2 Billion in Airport Screening Equipment 
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Travelers shuffling through America’s airports each day might be waiting in lines to go through screening detectors that don’t actually work.

That’s because the Transportation Security Administration is failing to manage the up-keep of its multi-billion dollar airport screening equipment, potentially jeopardizing the safety of airline passengers across the country.

Related: TSA Hides Details of $1 Billion Face Finding Program

That’s according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, which found that the TSA isn’t sufficiently overseeing the contractors’ $1.2 billion annual fees to maintain the country’s passenger screening equipment—which can cost up to $1 million per machine.   

The auditors said that because of the lax oversight, the TSA risks shortening the equipment’s shelf life, thus increasing costs to the taxpayer to replace it.

On top of that, the IG said that since TSA can’t assure that the screening equipment is functioning properly, it risks passenger and airport safety.

“Our prior work on airport passenger and baggage screening demonstrated that these other measures may be less effective at detecting dangerous items. Consequently, the safety of airline passengers and aircraft could be jeopardized,” the auditors said.

The TSA screens roughly 1.8 million passengers each day and about 1.2 million checked bags, which the screening equipment is relied upon to detect anything that could pose a threat to the safety of each airplane and its passengers.

The government pays about $1.2 billion in maintenance contracts for the equipment every year. Still, despite spending all of that money, the TSA has no policy or procedure to assure that contractors are providing effective maintenance of the expensive equipment.

Related: Report Says TSA Wasted $1 Billion on Screening Program

The IG recommended that the TSA develop a process to verify that the contractors are completing required maintenance activities. It also suggested that local TSA agents at each airport should be required to document the maintenance hours that the contractors log to assure that they are putting in the appropriate amount of time on the equipment.

The TSA agreed with the auditor’s recommendations but disputed the title of the report, “The TSA Does Not Properly Manage Its Airport Screening Maintenance Program,” and it also said the program’s effectiveness should “not be questioned.”

The IG, for its part, disagreed with the TSA, and said that the title of the report accurately reflected what it found.

“We determined that TSA does not have adequate procedures to ensure that preventive maintenance for its screening equipment is completed according to contractual requirements and manufacturer’s specifications,” the IG said.

“We also determined that TSA does not adequately oversee the preventive and corrective maintenance processes for its equipment. In our opinion, proper management of a program requires effective oversight to ensure the program goals are met.”

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