Weapons smuggled past TSA screeners with ease: officials

Daily News Article   —   Posted on November 5, 2015

Weapons smuggled past TSA screeners with ease: officials

TSA screening, Denver

(by Marisa Schultz, The New York Post) WASHINGTON – Two top federal watchdogs warned Tuesday that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents are failing in their mission to secure airports — and are allowing weapons to slip through their supposedly thorough checks.

One lawmaker who reviewed classified information on the number of times weapons were smuggled past TSA screeners in undercover tests called their performance “horrific”:

“In looking at the number of times people got through with guns or bombs in these covert testing exercises it really was pathetic. When I say that I mean pitiful,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) “. … Just thinking about the breaches there, it’s horrific.”

 

TSA security failures were in the spotlight before the House Oversight Committee Tuesday as auditors outlined cultural and systemic problems at the agency charged with keeping airlines and their passengers safe.

“TSA has consistently fallen short in basic program management,” Jennifer Grover, director of homeland security oversight for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the committee.

John Roth, inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said multiple covert tests by his office found TSA agents failed to catch prohibited items.

“We found layers of security simply missing,” Roth said.

The federal auditors acknowledged improvement under the new TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who admitted failures and pledged reforms.

“It’s a full system review,” said Neffenger, who has been on the job for four months.

Among the immediate changes are:

  • measuring TSA agents’ performance by the number of banned items detected rather than passenger wait-times
  • new training on how each piece of equipment works and
  • streamlining the number of procedures screeners must memorize.

The hearing comes after preliminary results of the inspector general investigation were leaked this summer that found screeners failed to detect 95 percent of prohibited items – including weapons and plastic explosives – planted by undercover investigators posing as passengers.

Then-TSA head Melvin Carraway was swiftly reassigned in June.

The final report on covert testing was completed in September and distributed in a classified setting.

DHS inspector general Roth couldn’t detail the findings but said the security breaches amounted to failures in technology, procedures and human error.

“If it was publicly known, people would scream for some change,” Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said of the results.

Grover’s GAO office released a separate report Tuesday that found TSA is failing in three areas:

  • implementing new technology such as body scanners
  • measuring whether programs such as no-fly lists are working and
  • using data to improve detection programs that include bomb-sniffing dogs

Congressman Mica called for a complete overhaul of TSA to focus on the less than 1 percent of people who pose a threat instead of the rest of travelers.

“You need to get out of the personnel business and back into the security business,” Mica said.

Members of Congress were generally willing to let Neffenger have some time to improve the beleaguered agency, but warned he will be closely monitored.

“You should get used to seeing us on a regular basis,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the New York Post.

Questions

1. Define the following words as used in the article:
watchdog

  • covert
  • auditors
  • oversight
  • prohibited
  • preliminary

2. What is the purpose/mission of each of the following mentioned in the article?

  1. House Oversight Committee
  2. Government Accountability Office (GAO)
  3. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General
  4. Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

3. How did Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-Mass) describe the classified information he reviewed on undercover tests of TSA screeners?

4. a) What did the GAO’s investigation find?
b) What did DHS inspector general John Roth say his office found?

5. What changes did the new TSA administrator say would immediately take place?

6. Why did the House Oversight Committee initiate the hearing on the TSA?

7. Why did the security failures occur, according to DHS inspector general Roth?

8. In what three areas did the TSA fail according to Jennifer Grover at the GAO?

9. What solution did Congressman John Mica (R-Fl) propose?

10. Watch the news report under “Resources.” Do you agree with the suggestion by CATO? Explain your answer.

QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION:
a) When the preliminary results of the investigation were leaked in June, the head of the TSA was reassigned. Should he have been fired?
b) The reporter concludes, “Members of Congress were generally willing to let [the new TSA head] have some time to improve the beleaguered agency, but warned he will be closely monitored.” The reporter notes that the federal auditors acknowledged some improvement under Neffenger. Congress is willing to give him more time. Are you willing to give him more time?
c) One of the major changes Neffenger is making is: measuring TSA agents’ performance by the number of banned items detected rather than passenger wait-times. Do you think this will increase wait times for passengers going through security?


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Background

About Congressional Committees:

  • Committee membership enables members to develop specialized knowledge of the matters under their jurisdiction.
  • As “little legislatures,” committees monitor on-going governmental operations, identify issues suitable for legislative review, gather and evaluate information; and recommend courses of action to their parent body.
  • The chair of each committee and a majority of its members represent the majority party. The chair primarily controls a committee’s business.

Resources

Visit the page for the House Oversight Committee hearing on TSA Security Gaps.

The administrator of the TSA and two Homeland Security Department officials testified at a House Oversight Committee hearing on airport security. Watch a news clip below:


Watch the June 1 news report from ABC News when the results of the investigation were first leaked: