Smiths Detection’s winning bid on a nearly $97 million contract for advanced carry-on baggage scanners at U.S. airport checkpoints came in was far less than expected, Transportation Security Agency Administrator David Pekoske said on Tuesday.

The price offered by Smiths Detection was “substantially less than our budge estimate,” Pekoske said of the five-year, $96.8 million contract TSA awarded the company on March 28 for the first 300 computed tomography (CT) checkpoint scanners. Pekoske said in a statement last week when the award was announced that Smiths Detection’s bid represented the “best value” to the government.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske. Photo: TSA

Smiths Detection, part of Britain’s Smiths Group, beat out offerings by Analogic, Integrated Defense & Security Solutions, and L3 Technologies [LLL] to provide its HI-SCAN 6040 CTiX scanner. Pekoske told reporters during a teleconference on March 29 that the competition for the checkpoint CT scanners is ongoing and in the next round one or more companies will receive awards (Defense Daily, March 29).

Under the contract terms, Smiths must begin deliveries of its CT systems within 90 days of award and expects to complete deliveries by the end of 2020. One industry official told Defense Daily following the award announcement that there is still a chance that at least one of the losing bidders will lodge a protest with the government, which would delay deployments and could result in a reevaluation.

The official believes that Smiths underbid for the contract, which TSA didn’t factor in, and may seek to recover costs later when it negotiates higher prices for any changes of scope the agency wants.

Industry officials have said they expected TSA to award multiple contracts for the initial tranche of CT systems, both to maintain competition, and foster technology improvements as the program goes forward to meet increasingly challenging detection and other requirements. Democrat and Republican leaders on the House Homeland Security Committee said the same thing in a letter to Pekoske last Friday (Defense Daily, April 1).

Pekoske has called the checkpoint CT systems a “game-changer” and told the House Appropriations Homeland Security Committee on March 28 that the technology provides “vastly superior security” and improved passenger convenience versus the existing Advanced Technology (AT) X-ray systems his agency currently scans carry-on bags with at airports.

TSA had been expected to buy between 150 and 200 checkpoint CT systems with fiscal year 2019 funds but may have been able to up the quantity due to the lower than expected bid price.

The CT systems, which are based on technology already used to automatically scan checked luggage for explosives threats, provide a clearer image that can also be virtually rotated by operators to look for threats. This capability is why travelers won’t have to divest their electronic devices from their bags when they pass through a checkpoint CT machine, Pekoske told the panel. This is also a convenience for the traveler, he said.

TSA is asking for $221 million in FY ’20 to purchase 320 checkpoint CT systems.

Smiths Detection and OSI Systems’ [OSIS] Rapiscan Systems division provide the AT X-ray systems to TSA.

Pekoske also touted the forthcoming rollout of new travel document technology at airport checkpoints. TSA in February awarded France-based IDEMIA a contract to provide the Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) systems that will be used by TSA Travel Document Checkers at aviation security checkpoints.

The CAT systems will begin to roll out this summer and Pekoske said he expects it will take several years before the systems are fully deployed. TSA plans to purchase about 500 CAT systems this year and is seeking funding for 300-plus in FY ’20.

The CAT systems will first be used at TSA’s PreCheck lanes to ensure passengers in the trusted traveler program get a “tangible benefit,” Pekoske said. The systems, for the most part, will mean travelers won’t have to present their boarding passes to the TSA agents, who will also obtain information about the traveler so that they can better assess risk.

The checkpoint CT and CAT systems are currently TSA’s two highest technology priorities, Pekoske said.