The Transportation Security Administration needs about $350 million annually devoted to the acquisition and deployment of advanced checkpoint baggage scanners to be able to accelerate the fielding of the technology, the agency’s top official said on Wednesday.
With current budgets, to purchase and deploy 2,400 or more checkpoint computed tomography (CT) will take “a very, very long time,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske told the House Homeland Security Committee in response to a question from Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the ranking member.
Katko said that given budget constraints and current funding levels it will take 10 years to deploy the checkpoint CT systems, which will be “obsolete” by then.
Pekoske replied that $350 million in annual funding will enable TSA to complete the acquisition of more than 2,400 systems in about five years.
TSA is seeking $104.5 million in fiscal year 2022 for its checkpoint CT program. House appropriators have agreed to the request but asked the agency to provide them with a plan for completing CT deployments at U.S. airports by 2026 at the latest.
TSA so far has more than 300 checkpoint CT systems installed, including 300 provided by Smiths Detection through a $97 million contract awarded in March 2019. In August, the agency awarded Analogic nearly $200 million for the next tranche of CT systems, which includes 314 units.
The award to Analogic marks the start of CT procurements under the Checkpoint Property Screening Systems (CPSS) program. Analogic will be providing its ConneCT systems under the CPSS Mid-Size efforts, which also include elements of Automated Screening Lanes (ASLs) such as powered conveyers at the front and back end of the scanners, an automatic divert capability to send suspect bags to a secondary screening area, primary and alternate viewing stations, and the bins for travelers to load their belongings to be scanned.
The units procured from Smiths Protection were processed through a prior requirement called Advanced Technology/CT, which doesn’t include the ASL components.
The checkpoint CT systems, which are based on the same CT technology used to automatically screen checked bags for explosives at airports, provide a three-dimensional image to operators to better assess threats and also allow travelers to leave their electronics and liquids inside their bags.
Pekoske said “it’s really critical to get this technology in place as soon as we can,” suggesting that in an unclassified hearing he can’t describe how good the detection capabilities of the CT systems are.
There are limits to how quickly the checkpoint CT systems can be purchased and fielded, Pekoske said, noting that practical considerations include preparation work at the airports and manufacturing timelines.