If the initial deployment of new scanners for screening carry-on bags at airport checkpoints occurs faster than expected, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will seek approval from the Department of Homeland Security to ask Congress to reprogram funds in fiscal year 2019 to buy more of the systems to add to the first wave of installations, agency Administrator David Pekoske said on Thursday.
TSA has requested $73 million from Congress in FY ’19 to purchase and begin deploying 145 computed tomography (CT)-based scanners at U.S. airports, although that number is less than the 300 Pekoske told Congress in January that he hoped to purchase in the coming year.
“The 145 number or the 300 number, I’m still going to move as fast as I can to begin to implement the system,” Pekoske told the House Homeland Security subcommittee that oversees TSA. “What may happen, I may reach a point where I deploy all 145 earlier in the fiscal year than I thought and at that point we reconsider the funding level and I go back and talk with the administration.”
He later said that if the first patch of systems are installed and proven to strengthen security by next April, he’ll pursue a reprogramming options to buy additional machines.
Pekoske said the ultimate requirement for the CT-based systems is 2,400 for use at airports nationwide. The systems would replace the current Advanced Technology X-ray systems. The CT-based systems provide a three-dimensional image of a bag’s contents, making it easier for Transportation Security Officer to find potential threats like explosives and weapons.
The CT technology, which is the standard for screening checked bags and automatically alerting for potential explosives, may eventually offer the same capabilities for checkpoint screening, which would speed the processing of bags and allow travelers to transit the checkpoint faster. The hope is for passengers to be able to not have to separate their personal electronic devices and liquids, which would also make for less hassle at checkpoints.
This summer TSA expects to have 35 CT systems undergoing some form of testing and evaluation, with most undergoing operational assessments at airports and the rest in test facilities, Pekoske said. All necessary funding is available to complete testing and certify systems to meet detection standards, he said.
There is bipartisan support within the House Homeland Security Committee for the CT-based systems. Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Transportations Security subcommittee, said he is “concerned about the lack of speed with which some of these systems are being implemented, particularly given the fact that these very machines … are already being implemented in Europe.”
TSA has been evaluating in airports since last year CT systems provided by two manufacturers. With the upcoming expansion of operational testing in airports, Pekoske said this will also give the agency’s workforce and chance to train on the technology. He said he expects the systems to work as intended.
“I’m moving as fast as I can, irrespective of what the budget levels are,” Pekoske told Katko. “My commitment to you, my commitment to the administration is to deploy the technology as quickly as we can, and so the budget number doesn’t meter the speed at which we’re attempting to deploy this technology.”
The five companies competing to provide TSA with CT systems for checkpoint screening are Analogic [ALOG], Integrated Defense & Security Solutions, L3 Technologies [LLL], Britain’s Smiths Detection, and ScanTech.