GAO tells TSA to wire up

The Transportation Security Administration must improve its online training for screeners, concludes a Government Accountability Office report released today.

GAO's report recommends that TSA officials develop and implement a plan to get high-speed Internet/intranet access to all airport training locations. The report also recommends that the agency develop more specific internal mechanisms to monitor and record progress screeners make in meeting training requirements.

GAO auditors found that TSA has improved its training programs since September 2003, when GAO first required the agency to improve screener performance. The transportation agency now trains new employees to handle passenger and baggage screening and requires recertification training of current employees. The online, self-guided courses are available through the agency’s Online Learning Center, accessible via the Internet and TSA's intranet.

But the lack of high-speed connectivity prevented TSA employees at some airports from completing online refresher courses, the report states. As of October 2004, GAO auditors discovered that nearly 50 percent of screeners lacked high-speed connections to the Online Learning Center.

TSA officials also states that many airports had insufficient staff to fulfill security duties.

TSA managers told GAO that they had to input some training data by hand, creating an obstacle to keeping training records up-to-date.

The report criticizes TSA for not yet writing a plan to implement high-speed Internet or intranet to training facilities at all airports.

“The absence of such a plan limits TSA's ability to make prudent decisions about how to move forward with deploying connectivity to all airports to provide screeners access to online training," according to the report.

TSA does not have the means to ensure that screeners are meeting federal training guidelines, the report found. The agency does not have ways to measure if screeners have done all required training, whether they have taken any necessary remedial training or who is responsible for making sure screeners have enough training.

TSA is working to fix the problems, GAO's report states, including distributing training materials in paper and CD-ROM formats. TSA has created leadership and technical training tools for supervisors and high-level directors.

The report states that TSA officials told GAO that they already have a plan to install high-speed Internet/intranet connections in all airport training sites. The agency never gave GAO a copy of that plan, however, according to the report.

TSA is doing a better job at collecting data on screeners' performance, the report found, in part by doing more unannounced, hidden tests. The agency has created performance indexes to rate passenger- and baggage-screening success, but the indexes do not rate specific activities. TSA aims to finalize those performance targets by the end of October, according to the report.

GAO auditors found several weaknesses in TSA's training programs. The Threat Image Projection system, which projects an image of threatening items onto the screen of a detection device, is only used in passenger screening. Recertification for baggage screeners doesn’t include recognizing images in the TIP system. The performance study the TSA performed looked only at passenger screening.

TSA officials said they agree with GAO's findings and are already taking steps to address the issues, TSA spokeswoman Deirdre O'Sullivan said. The agency has requested $174 million in President Bush’s fiscal 2006 budget request to pay for more airports to get high-speed connections to the Online Learning Center, she said.

Additionally, she said that by summer, TSA will enhance the center’s reporting tools to better measure and correlate training performance data.

The agency will not release its connectivity plan, until it receives its final budget appropriation, O'Sullivan said.

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