IG: TSA database behind schedule

Technical and policy problems have caused the Transportation Security Administration to fall behind schedule and exceed cost projections for its automated Known Shipper Management System, according to a new report from Richard Skinner, inspector general of the Homeland Security Department.

TSA introduced the shipper database in January 2007 to collect information on regulated shippers of air cargo. As of July 2008, TSA had spent more than $34 million and taken more than three years to implement the system, according to the report, which was released March 24. Because the DHS agency didn't estimate the initial costs, Skinner said he wasn't able to determine the extent of the delays and cost overruns.

TSA officials had originally hoped to make the Known Shipper Management System the only tool for electronically verifying shippers by April 2007, but that goal was later pushed back to October 2007 and then delayed indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the program has experienced technical problems at each step, the IG said.

“According to the contractor, TSA’s existing technology, an Oracle database, was not designed to handle the high volume of Known Shipper Management System data,” Skinner wrote. The system “has exceeded cost expectations and is behind schedule because of these ongoing technical problems.”

The project got off to a slow start due to an unanticipated delay as a result of a change in a DHS contracting requirement. As a result, TSA was not able to extend a contract for business intelligence supporting the shipper vetting process, and work stopped for nearly three months, the report states.

“TSA’s Known Shipper Program does not provide assurance that only cargo from known shippers is transported on passenger aircraft," the IG concluded. "TSA has made progress in improving the the Known Shipper Program by developing the Known Shipper Management System; however, the agency has not resolved technical problems and policy issues, which has hindered its use as the primary method for establishing and verifying known shippers.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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