House appropriators in the summer proposed funding increases for new airport checkpoint baggage scanning technology in the fiscal year 2020 spending bill for the Transportation Security Administration while Senate appropriators in late September agreed to agency’s spending request for checkpoint computed tomography (CT) systems, numbers that would be welcome to industry.
But whether vendors will ultimately benefit is unclear because it’s difficult to predict whether the annual appropriations will be signed into law.
That’s because the Senate Appropriations Committee in late September approved its version of a fiscal year 2020 spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security with controversial provisions for spending $5 billion on a border wall and an increase in immigration detention beds that are rejected by almost every Democrat in Congress. Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) warned of a full-year continuing resolution, at least for DHS, unless Democrats and President Donald Trump can resolve their differences over border security.
Congress agreed to a short-term continuing resolution signed by Trump on Sept. 27 that keeps the federal government operating until Nov. 21 at FY ’19 spending levels. The government’s FY ’20 began on Oct. 1. The resolution means no new programs can be initiated and typically curtails spending rates by government contracting authorities.
Late last year and early into 2019 portions of the federal government, including DHS, shutdown for 35 days due to an impasse between Congress and Trump over funding for the border wall. The president wanted $5.7 billion for the wall and related infrastructure but in the end settled for $1.4 billion.
However, Trump has found ways around Congress to add funding for the wall, reprogramming $6.1 billion in Defense Department funds and using $601 million in Treasury Department asset forfeiture funds toward his cause, infuriating Democrats and potentially dimming chances for a compromise for the FY ’20 bill.
If Democrats and the president can come together on a spending package for DHS, then it’s likely good news for vendors of checkpoint computed tomography (CT) systems that TSA will purchase. Senate appropriators in their version if the FY ’20 bill recommend $142.1 million for the technology, the same as requested, which will support the purchase of 237 machines.
The number of checkpoint CT systems that could be purchased by TSA for $142.1 million could be a lot higher than 237 given that earlier this year the agency awarded Smiths Detection the first contract for the new checkpoint scanners, a nearly $97 million purchase for 300 systems. The company’s bid came in far lower than what its competitors and TSA expected.
House appropriators in June recommended $27.8 million more than requested for the CT systems, saying the funding would allow TSA to purchase 365 of the scanners in FY ’20.
TSA in its budget request earlier this year said that in addition to the CT systems it is seeking through its traditional acquisition account, it also expects to be able to purchase an additional 83 units through unobligated balances in the Aviation Security Capital Fund.
TSA currently expects to award a new round of contracts later in 2020 for the second tranche of checkpoint CT systems. Whereas as the company went with a single vendor with the first purchase, given that there will be more funding available in FY ’20, regardless of whether the House or Senate recommendations prevail, there is a good chance the agency will include a second vendor, just as it does with the current Advanced Technology X-Ray systems that scan carry-on bags at airport checkpoints.
Senate appropriators also include an additional $8 million above the request for checkpoint CT that is pegged for accelerating the development of algorithms.
“These funds will utilize the momentum gained from currently funded algorithm development activities to continue the efforts associated with moving toward higher levels within the detection standard in the nearer term,” the Senate appropriators say in a report accompanying their version of the DHS spending bill.
The checkpoint CT systems provide the operator with a three-dimensional view of a bag’s contents, and also allow the user to virtually rotate an image to see it from different angles, enhancing the ability to spot potential threats. The CT systems are based on the same technology used to automatically detect explosives in checked bags.
With the CT systems, TSA initially will allow travelers to leave their personal electronics inside their bags. Eventually, the technology is expected to automatically determine if there are explosives and even weapons inside the bags. At some future date, travelers are also expected to be able to leave their liquids inside their bags because the algorithms will be able to detect whether liquid explosives are present.
Analogic, Integrated Defense & Security Solutions, and L3Harris Technologies [LHX] are also competing for the checkpoint CT systems.