The first 300 advanced baggage scanners that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) deployed to airport checkpoints fell short of detection and throughput requirements, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (IG) says in a new report.
The checkpoint computed tomography (CT) systems purchased by TSA from Smiths Detection have an average throughput of 170 items per hour, 15 percent below the agency’s requirement of 200 items per hour, says the report, DHS Did Not Effectively Oversee TSA’s Acquisition of Computed Tomography Systems (OIG-21-69).
“TSA officials elected to accept known risks to throughput and wait times, in exchange for the advanced detection capabilities the CT systems offered,” the IG says. “Additionally, TSA officials said although the CT systems did not fully meet the requirements, it met their needs as TSA continues to deploy upgrades that will take several incremental steps. DHS determined TSA would have to either use the CT systems during periods of lower volume passenger traffic or use both the CT systems and AT X-ray systems to balance high demand and reduce the impact to checkpoint operations.”
The AT systems refer to Advanced Technology and are the legacy baggage scanners TSA uses at airport checkpoints.
The CT systems are based on the same technology used to automatically screen checked baggage for explosives and provide greater detection capability of potential threats inside carry-on bags while allowing travelers to leave their laptop computers, personal electronic devices and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in their bags.
The report says that the initial checkpoint CT systems also only provided a brief improvement in threat detection, noting that eight months after deployments began in late 2019 TSA requested that the systems be upgraded to meet operational needs including making modifications to standard operating procedures during low travel volumes and eliminating the need to retrain users.
“TSA deemed the upgrade low risk and asserted it offered a decreased detectable threat mass, expanded detection of emerging threats, eliminated the requirement to divest bags of large electronics and 3-1-1 compliant liquids, and addressed COVID-19 precautions by reducing item search rates and bin use,” the IG says. It adds that the Department of Homeland Security approved the request but didn’t document its decision in a memorandum.
DHS, in its response to the IG’s report, disagreed that the CT systems didn’t meet the detection requirements. The IG cites DHS as saying the initial CT systems were deployed with the latest detection algorithms and an advanced algorithm that was pre-loaded and could be turned on when testing was successful. In July 2020, DHS gave TSA permission to turn on the pre-loaded algorithm on all CT systems based on the agency’s updated evaluation report, the IG says.
TSA in late August awarded Analogic a contract for the second tranche of checkpoint CT systems, which will be acquired under the Checkpoint Property Screening System (CPSS) program. The CPSS program includes new requirements as well as portions of automated screening lane technology.
The IG says that under CPSS Version 1.1, TSA planned to acquire improvements to the CT systems in increments to meet increased detection standards and improve networking. But, the report says, DHS acquisition guidance doesn’t provide for incremental deliveries of new capabilities.
DHS disagreed with the IG on its assessment of incremental deliveries, saying the approach is allowable even if not specifically included in policy. The report says that DHS cited the widespread use throughout the federal government for block upgrades and incremental deliveries to improve capabilities.
Still, DHS agreed to update its acquisition guidance, the report says.