GAO on board with Secure Flight plans

TSA said to have generally achieved statutory conditions

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has generally achieved Congress’ 10 conditions for the development of a multiphase, billion-dollar-plus program that uses information technology to take over the process of checking fliers against watch lists from airlines, according to government auditors.

Federal lawmakers tasked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with reviewing the program, named Secure Flight, in 2005. A conference report for legislation that funded TSA’s parent organization, the Homeland Security Department, in 2010 directed GAO to continue to review the program until all 10 statutory conditions are generally achieved.

GAO had previously identified one condition for the program as outstanding that involved the appropriateness of life-cycle cost estimates and plans for the program. However, TSA has now satisfied that condition, GAO said.

“TSA has generally achieved the statutory condition related to the appropriateness of Secure Flight’s life-cycle cost and schedule estimates, and thus has generally achieved all 10 statutory conditions related to the development and implementation of the program,” GAO concluded in a report to members of Congress released this month.

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Previously, DHS certified in September 2008 that TSA had satisfied all 10 conditions. However, an initial assessment from GAO found TSA generally hadn’t achieved five of those statutory conditions and hadn’t demonstrated Secure Flight’s operational readiness.

In late January 2009, GAO found the agency had generally achieved six of the conditions and conditionally achieved three conditions. Despite meeting only some of the conditions, GAO concluded TSA had taken sufficient steps to start initial operations of Secure Flight, and the program began initial operations in January 2009.

GAO said the estimated life-cycle cost for the Secure Flight is $1.36 billion through fiscal 2020. TSA plans to fully assume watch-list matching from air carriers for all domestic flights by May 2010, and for all international flights departing to and from the United States by December 2010, GAO said. Since fiscal year 2004, TSA has received $358 million for Secure Flight, according to program officials, GAO said.

TSA was working with 74 U.S. air carriers and 19 foreign carriers on the program as of March 31, according to the report. Secure Flight had so far assumed the watch-list matching function for 39 U.S. air carriers for domestic flights only, and for 5 foreign air carriers for international flights departing to and from the United States, according to TSA, GAO said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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