TSA needs to beef up COOP plan, IG says

Work at the Transportation Security Administration could grind to a halt in the event of an emergency because agency officials have not put together an adequate continuity-of-operations plan, a recent report states.

TSA's current plan would require more than 200 people to conduct 138 mission-essential functions at two or more different locations during the most extreme emergency situations, according to a redacted report from the Homeland Security Department's inspector general.

For the number of people involved, the plan would provide only a minimal COOP capability, the IG concluded. TSA managers need to do more work to ensure that only essential functions and associated emergency employees are included in the plan. Also, the agency has yet to establish a viable work site, the report states.

TSA program offices have not made COOP planning a priority, the IG found. Agency management had not either, especially when it came to the budget. Until fiscal 2006, the agency had provided only a fraction of the money requested by the COOP program office.

The agency had reprogrammed $4.2 million for the COOP program, mainly to cover costs associated with modifying and outfitting the agency’s alternate operating facility (AOF). But that aside, TSA had only provided a total of $830,000 from fiscal 2003 through 2005, against a COOP management request for $6 million to $8.75 million a year.

The COOP program also suffered from a chronic lack of staff. When the COOP manager took on that job in 2002, he was the only one working on the program for more than a year, and even then he could only devote 30 to 50 percent of his time to it because he was also assigned other duties.

It was only in September 2004 that the COOP manager managed to hire and maintain a staff of four employees.

Other problems the IG audit uncovered were:

  • At the beginning of 2006 the AOF could only accommodate 30 of the 184 emergency employees identified in the COOP plan. TSA has plans for a bigger AOF, but without a careful analysis of its mission-essential functions, TSA cannot adequately plan for the size, cost or other resources needed for it, the IG said.

  • Neither the TSA headquarters COOP plan or the program office COOP plans have adequate delegation of authority and orders of success for who would be in charge in various situations.

  • The TSA had not identified a devolution site or developed a devolution plan to ensure continuation of mission-essential functions in the event of the TSA headquarters site or its AOFs became unusable.

  • The COOP plan did not address how vital electronic and paper records would be managed and stored.

  • TSA had been responsive to earlier draft versions of its report, the IG reports, and had taken significant steps to building a strong and viable COOP capability. Nevertheless, the report states, TSA still needs to make progress on many of the deficiencies identified during the audit.

    About the Author

    Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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