TSA has deployed a program that uses about 3,000 behavior detection officers who use a “complex scoring system” for surveiling people, Lord said.
This program — called the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques or SPOT program — could be simplified, Lord said.
In particular, GAO found that the performance metrics did not always measure things that are part of the TSA mission.
“We thought it was a good idea if they refined the metrics and took some additional steps to better demonstrate the value of the program,” Lord said.
Advanced imaging technology — better known as the full-body scanners — have generated a lot of interest from lawmakers in understanding the capabilities of the machines, Lord said.
GAO found the technology is underutilized in some places where TSA installed the machines at airports with lower passenger volume, he said.
At high-volume airports, the concern is that the processing takes too long. But TSA will have software accompanying the new generation of the scanners that will “hopefully speed up some of the processing,” Lord said.
Currently, more than 2.1 million maritime workers are enrolled in the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program.
“It sounds really sexy. You have a computer chip embedded on a card. You can use it with a card reader. It should be a good way to limit access to secure areas that are ports and vessels, but we found a number of problems in the use of the cards,” Lord said.
For one, the cards were being used as a “flash pass” rather with a card reader, he said.
Undercover GAO investigators were able to infiltrate ports under false identifications, he said.
The good news, Lord said, is TSA is trying to streamline its processes and become “more risk-based.”
“This one-size-fits-all screening process … is outdated and the administrator himself has acknowledged that,” Lord said.
TSA is moving towards a pre-check or vetting process that will treat different passengers differently.
“If they know a lot about you, you’ll be able to just zip right through,” he said.
Tom Temin is the host of The Federal Drive, which airs from 6-8 a.m. on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. region and online everywhere. Tom has 30 years experience in journalism, mostly in technology markets. Before coming to Federal News Radio, he was a long-serving editor-in-chief of Government Computer News and Washington Technology magazines.