Transportation Security Administration Chief David Pekoske expects a request for bids this summer for a new contract for advanced checkpoint baggage scanners to be followed by an award a year later, although deployments of the technology under the new contract could be two years away, he told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

The checkpoint computed tomography (CT) program “is my highest acquisition priority because of the significant improvement it makes in our ability to detect” threat items in carry-on bags at airports, Pekoske told the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee during a hearing to review his agency’s budget request for fiscal year 2021.

The $29 million request for checkpoint machines was questioned by several senators, both Republicans and Democrats, for being too little given the benefits of the technology in improving aviation security while also making a passenger experience through the checkpoint more bearable. The machines have the ability to automatically detect explosives in electronics, which means travelers will be able to leave their portable electronic devices inside their carry-on bags, and eventually TSA expects the CT scanners will allow people to not have to divest their liquids either.

TSA last year awarded Smiths Detection a nearly $100 million contract for the first 300 CT systems, which are now being deployed to some of the nation’s airports. Deployments were expected to begin last year but a protest of the award delayed the program.

The first award was made with funding provided by Congress in FY ’19. In FY ’20, Congress provided just over $200 million more for checkpoint CT systems. Pekoske said this funding combined with the amount Congress provides in FY ’21 will be put toward the next contract.

The next award will be made under a new contract vehicle TSA plans to use to acquire the remaining CT systems, which is roughly around 2,400 scanners overall, Pekoske told the panel. The agency has previously indicated the follow-on contract could include multiple awardees.

The Request for Proposals (RFP) under the new contract will “probably” go out in the middle of this summer and it will “probably” take a year for award, Pekoske said.

Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), the ranking member on the subcommittee, responded that deliveries under the new contract will then be another two years, to which Pekoske said, “Yes sir.”

After the award to Smiths Detection in late March of 2019, Pekoske said at the time that a competition for the next tranche of CT purchases would be within the next year. On Tuesday, he cited several reasons for delays in the new competition.

One cause of the delay is setting up the new contract vehicle and another is that under the next contract vendors will be proposing their CT systems integrated with Automated Screening Lanes (ASLs), which unlike current checkpoint baggage handling systems, include mechanized rollers, automated bin return systems, multiple divestment stations for passengers, and automated security divert lanes for suspect bags to receive secondary screening beyond the reach of travelers.

“We want to see an integrated solution to those because our experience is government does not do integrated products well and so we are in the process of working with all the vendors that qualified for the initial acquisition and asking them…what they think their solution is for this combined baggage handling system and X-ray technology and then we’re going to go through a testing process, mostly on the integration because we don’t need to retest the X-ray technology,” Pekoske said.

Another reason for the delay in additional CT contracting is the need for vendors to meet new detection capabilities, Pekoske said.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) commented that given the apparent pace of the checkpoint CT deployments,the technology will have changed by the time it gets to her airport in West Virginia. Pekoske responded that the “CT technology is an enduring technology, but what we’ll change is the software that goes into that technology.”

Pekoske added that there are several threat detection algorithm processes occurring under the checkpoint CT program. This will “step up the capability over time, but we just found that both the vendors and the agency needed a bit more time to make sure we get this right as we deploy these,” he said.

Small airports will also be getting the new scanners at the same time large airports do, he said.

In addition to Smiths Detection, Analogic, Integrated Defense and Security Solutions, L3Harris Technologies [LHX], and Scan Tech Identification Beam Systems are competing for the CT work.