The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General today released its investigation of a 2010 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) baggage screening meltdown at Honolulu International Airport that involved 48 employees who failed to properly screen checked baggage, and found that the shortcomings in TSA procedures, standards and oversight that likely contributed to the security failure in Hawaii are system-wide problems and not isolated to one airport or incident.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) requested the Inspector General investigation in June 2011 following the failure of dozens of TSA employees at Honolulu to properly screen checked baggage.
"Unfortunately, the Inspector General's report further confirms what we've already witnessed through TSA security meltdowns at other airports in Newark, Charlotte, Fort Myers and elsewhere," Mica said. "This report and one TSA fiasco after another have demonstrated that this isn't the problem of a few bad apples. There are system-wide problems with this massive bureaucracy. In this case, the IG identified deficiencies in how TSA develops and implements changes to screening procedures, a lack of clarity in supervisory responsibilities and insufficient training, and a failure to deploy screening equipment where it was needed, even though that equipment was collecting dust in a warehouse."
Mica continued, "Although the IG rightly states that screening failures by individuals cannot be excused, the problem at Honolulu was not simply a dereliction of duty by a handful of TSA employees. This agency continues to fail its employees and the American public by devoting itself to managing a bloated 65,000-person workforce rather than focusing on providing the best transportation security standards and strong oversight for more efficient, more cost-effective private screeners. TSA is an agency crying out for reform."
"All of TSA's other failures -- including privacy violations and multiple failed deployments of expensive new technology and techniques -- are underscored by this failure of its basic mission," Chaffetz said. "The American public deserves and expects a TSA that is effective in its mission, respectful of our rights, and efficient in its operations."
The IG's investigation focused on baggage screening lapses at Honolulu International Airport (HNL) during the months of September to December, 2010. The TSA based its own initial investigation on video of security lapses during these months provided by a whistleblower.
The TSA investigation resulted in 48 proposed disciplinary actions for TSA employees including the Federal Security Director (FSD), an airport's highest ranking TSA employee. 26 employees have been removed, 14 were suspended, two retired, one resigned and one was cleared. Four employees, including the FSD and three other management level employees, are appealing their removals.
According to the Inspector General, the TSA's initial investigation focused only on the individual behavior of the TSA employees in question and failed to take into account its own policies or potential systemic shortcomings. The TSA claimed that HNL was the only airport where screening procedures were not followed, but provided no evidence to the IG to support this claim and did not demonstrate that it had reviewed all airports.
However, the IG highlights agency shortcomings as possible factors in the security lapses. According to the report:
The responsibility for screening the baggage belongs to the individual Transportation Security Officers, but this situation might not have occurred if TSA --
Developed changes in screening procedures comprehensively and then thoroughly evaluated the effects of such changes;
Supervisors provided better oversight of Transportation Security Officers and baggage screening operations; and
Provided screening operations at the affected location with adequate staff and screening equipment in a timely manner.
Without ensuring that baggage is screened as appropriate, TSA risks the safety of the traveling public by allowing unscreened baggage on passenger aircraft.
In discussing the TSA's "fragmented process of developing changes to screening procedures" and the agency's failure to fully evaluate their impacts, the IG report echoes similar problems with some of TSA's other security programs -- such as the SPOT behavior detection program and the TWIC program -- being deployed without being thoroughly tested or developed.
The report cites a lack of leadership, direction and insufficient training for supervisory level employees, making it unclear how much direct oversight of the screening process is expected of supervisors. This is another TSA failure that may have contributed to the majority of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) interviewed by the IG stating that "management, including Lead TSOs and Supervisory TSOs, provided occasional, little, or no direct supervision."
As mentioned above, the report also found that TSA headquarters did not provide EDS baggage screening equipment requested by the airport in August 2008. Although the requested equipment was sitting in a TSA warehouse, it was not delivered until December 2010, when the TSA's investigation of the security lapses began. Previous reports by the IG, and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, have highlighted the TSA's failure to effectively deploy screening technology, leading to equipment -- like that requested by Honolulu Airport -- sitting in a warehouse for a year or more.
The IG report also highlights that, although the investigation at Honolulu Airport was limited to the final months of 2010, breaches of baggage screening procedures may have occurred over a much longer period of time. According to the report, one TSA employee admitted circumventing screening procedures as early as January 2010. The report states, "TSA does not know the extent to which baggage was not screened during 2010 at HNL, placing the safety of the traveling public at risk by allowing unscreened baggage on passenger aircraft."