GAO: TSA still has Secure Flight issues to address

The Transportation Security Administration faces several key challenges in getting its Secure Flight program back on track, according to the Government Accountability Office.

TSA is reassessing the program, which checks aircraft passenger lists for known or suspected terrorists, after it was suspended in March because of privacy and security concerns. GAO said earlier that TSA’s rapid development process had put the program at risk of not being able to meet its goals.

At a more recent hearing in June, GAO said TSA still had not made recommended improvements to the plan.

TSA expects to finish its reassessment by the end of September.

In a written reply to questions from the House Homeland Security Committee, Cathleen Berrick, director for homeland security and justice issues at GAO, said TSA’s major challenge is the development, management and oversight of the program using a comprehensive system development life cycle plan.

Such a plan would include establishing program goals and systems requirements, developing realistic cost schedule estimates, and designing a security program that protects the system and the data it uses.

Not using such a plan was the principal reason for TSA program’s breakdown, GAO said earlier this year.

Whatever direction TSA elects to take Secure Flight in the future, Berrick said in her recent written comments, TSA needs to follow a disciplined system development approach.

Secure Flight is a replacement for earlier screening programs, such as the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II, which were dropped because of potential invasions of privacy and because they too easily labeled innocent travelers as potential terrorists.

Ensuring at-risk individuals are correctly identified, coordinating with federal and private sector stakeholders that provide the data for the name matching program, and minimizing the program’s impact on passenger privacy and rights are the other challenges facing TSA, Berrick said.

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