The Transportation Security Administration is finding that the use of rapid prototyping combined with field evaluations as part of its acquisition processes can shave at least 50 percent off the traditional procurement time, an agency official said.

Depending on the solution TSA needs, the agency may look to rapid prototyping and demonstration to expedite an acquisition, but how fast things go also depends on the success of a pilot evaluation, Jason Lim, the agency’s capabilities manager for identity management, said on Thursday as part of a pre-recorded panel discussion for the annual Federal Identity Summit hosted by AFCEA.

TSA has been using a “technology innovation demonstration process” for the Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) it is acquiring from IDEMIA, allowing the agency to “rapidly test and apply” the devices, Lim said. The CAT devices are being deployed to TSA travel document checking stations at airport checkpoints to automatically verify the authenticity of traveler identification credentials and immediately pull up flight status information for the TSA agent to review.

TSA is doing multiple pilots in the coming months to get the CAT 2 version of the device ready for fielding, Lim said. This process lets the agency “abbreviate” some of the gates used in the traditional acquisition processes to meet TSA’s needs, he said.

The technology innovation demonstration process enables TSA to “fail fast” if a prototyping effort doesn’t work and his helps mature its requirements rather than trying to get everything right from the get-go, Lim said. Rapid prototyping allows TSA to “articulate and validate requirements as soon as possible” and sort them out in “months rather than years” to inform a procurement decision, he said.

In response to the ongoing COVID pandemic, TSA has begun a new pilot effort with the CAT device that provides travelers with a self-service experience at the travel document station for its PreCheck trusted traveler population. In the evaluation, passengers insert their identity document into a CAT device that is equipped with a camera to have their photo captured for matching against the photo on the credential. The results are presented to the TSA officer, who doesn’t have to handle the document, enhancing health, safety and security.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske said earlier this month that once the testing effort at Washington Reagan National Airport is completed, the agency will be able to determine if it is suitable for deploying the self-service CAT-Camera system for operational use.