TSA budget request sees slight increase

A huge chunk of the Transportation Security Administration's budget will go to aviation security technology, mostly for explosive detection screening equipment and to complete high-speed connectivity at airports.

But there was only a slight jump in TSA's information technology budget. The Chief Information Officer's programs and aviation operations IT budget requested an additional $4 million this year, bringing the total to $325 million for IT.

The most significant part of TSA's requested budget goes to helping screeners communicate better. The Bush administration is seeking $174 million to complete the installation of high-speed operational connectivity to passenger and baggage screening checkpoints. This is a new initiative. Right now, about half of airports connect to the Internet via slow dial-up. Some of the largest airports in the country lack telephone or computer interconnectivity between administrative spaces, screening areas and baggage areas.

Hook-ups "probably would not have an impact on wait times," said TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan, but the Internet connections would offer faster online training to screeners, who now often depend on disks. Connection would also cut down on the cost and inconsistency of training.

When lawmakers mandated the creation of the TSA in 2001, officials had to quickly hire and train thousands of security workers for the nation's airports. They turned to an e-learning management system to track employees' records, reporting, course-planning resources and job qualifications. Within 10 months TSA officials trained more than 50,000 airport screeners to use e-learning software. More than 60 percent of TSA's staff had been trained, as of late last year, and about 3,500 employees logged on to TSA's Web site daily for ongoing education. TSA will hire 9,000 screeners in 2005 and a similar number in 2006 — that will go through the same e-training.

Funding for checkpoint explosive detection technologies is a direct response to the 9/11 Commission Report, which stated, "The most powerful investments [for improving screening effectiveness] may be for improvements in technologies. Though such technologies are becoming available now, widespread deployment is still years away."

TSA is requesting $43.7 million, a 54 percent increase over the $28.3 million fiscal 2005 figure. The hope is that cutting-edge technology will uncover terrorists' increasingly camouflaged prohibited items.

Yesterday, TSA announced Baltimore-Washington International Airport will be the eighth airport to deploy a new explosives detection trace portal. The portals, part of a pilot program, are walk-through machines that send puffs of air from the ankles to the head, releasing dust for analysis.


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