Rep. Mica excoriates TSA behavior detection program and its “bloated, ineffective bureaucracy”

by Charlie Leocha on May 20, 2010


Rep. John L. Mica, Ranking Members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure sent out the following press release excoriating the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) behavior detection program this morning after a press conference with findings from a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study conducted at his request.

The report confirms a bureaucratic organization out of touch with reality spending taxpayer dollars without proper research, cost benefit analysis or a test of the program in an airport environment.

So far only the House of Representatives has been attempting to get control of the burgeoning TSA and Homeland Security organizations. A TSA Authorization Act was passed by the House last summer, but was ignored by the the Senate. Without Congressional oversight, TSA will continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars.

(Washington, DC, ) – In the wake of a federal report highlighting the failures of the Transportation Security Administration’s behavior detection program, U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL) called for a reorganization of the TSA, which he called a “bloated, ineffective bureaucracy.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted the review of TSA’s behavior detection program, known as SPOT (“Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques”), at Mica’s request. Click here for the public version of the report (GAO-10-763).

“GAO’s report confirms that TSA has bungled the development and deployment of a potentially important layer of aviation security,” Mica said. “Other countries, such as Israel, successfully employ behavior detection techniques at their airports, but the bloated, ineffective bureaucracy of TSA has produced another security failure for U.S. transportation systems.

“I have written to Secretary Napolitano to express the need for the immediate reevaluation and reorganization of the TSA, an agency teetering on the verge of disaster.” Mica transmitted his letter to the DHS Secretary earlier today.

According to the GAO report, TSA spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on the SPOT program. TSA began pilot tests of SPOT in 2003, and began to significantly increase deployment of Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) in March 2007. Approximately 3,000 BDOs are now deployed to over 100 of 457 TSA-regulated U.S. airports.

However, according to the GAO, TSA never scientifically validated the list of behaviors underpinning the program, never determined whether the techniques could be applied for counterterrorism or in an airport environment, and never conducted a cost-benefit analysis.

The program has also failed to identify known terrorists that have travelled through SPOT airports. Since the program’s inception, 17 known terrorists have traveled through eight SPOT airports on 23 different occasions. This includes Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber.

The GAO reports that between May 2004 and August 2008:

    2 billion passengers went through SPOT airports
    150,000 were selected for secondary screening
    14,000 were referred to law enforcement
    1,100 were arrested
    0 were arrested for terrorism.

Mica had urged the development of a behavior detection program, based on the highly successful Israeli model utilized by EL Al Airlines.

“Unfortunately, the TSA’s SPOT Program is not like the Israeli behavior detection model. Unlike the Israeli program, SPOT is conducted from a distance, with no personal interaction between the passenger and the TSA employee performing the SPOT screening unless the passenger is identified for secondary screening,” Mica said. “El Al also trains all their staff in behavior detection techniques, not just the screening staff working the passenger checkpoints.

“Earlier airport screening penetration tests have repeatedly demonstrated the TSA’s failure to detect threats. I sought a robust behavior detection program to address those failures. Unfortunately, penetration testing continues to show that even with new screening technology and the SPOT Program, the aviation screening system is not working.

“TSA is a bureaucratic nightmare, with over 60,000 employees and top heavy with supervisory and administrative staff. At TSA headquarters, where 30 percent of employees are supervisors, the average salary is over $105,000. Thirteen percent of field employees are supervisors. This is a massive bureaucracy that cannot effectively ensure the safety of U.S. transportation systems, and something must be done to improve the agency’s performance,” Mica concluded.

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  • SpaceCadet51

    Not surprising. I speak 7 foreign languages including the Pakistani dialect and my application for TSA was turned down due to a less than stellar credit rating. One would think that this sklill would be in demand … but not here!

  • Barbara Rieb

    One problem is they only check old gray haired people. How often have you seen any minority pulled over. I was pulled over in Denver (I am 76) and there had been two middle eastern men in line that made me nervous and I asked the TSA agent why they were not pulled over. She responded that would be profiling. DUH, so you pull over a 76 year old woman. How many of them have been a threat to anyone!!! Take a look next time you go through security and see how many poor old people are pulled over. It is bad enough we have to take our shoes off.

  • IraqVet

    It was never about security, it is about control…I was pulled aside to be wanded while wearing my desert camo uniform on my way back to Baghdad Iraq where the real war was at…of course the 80 year old man next to me had it worse…He had to listen to the TSA A**Klown repeatedly ask him to lift his leg so she could wand it…When I suggested, the obvious, that maybe he couldn’t the A-Klown (all 250 lbs of her) informed me that they were fighting terrorism everday …I asked her if she was getting ambushed everday on her way to work too…

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  • TSAtired

    Folks, we are simply overworked! Fatigue destroys consistency and focus. You need to understand what it is like to do pat down after pat down in a eight or ten hour day. The work volume far exceeds the number of officers and especially females at a check point. Also, understand that officers are pulled back and forth all day from check point to check point or baggage room to check point to make up for the inadequate staffing. If passengers would just listen when they are instructed to remove EVERYTHING from their pockets or bodies there would be no need for the pat down. Passengers are also asked If they want “a private screening” so there is no need for anyone to be exposed in public view. LISTEN and DO and stop complaining about what happens after you chose to ignore the instructions or advise! Making sure you are safe in the air is not just up to the officer doing his/her job. Also, we all know and understand that the country is in turmoil and people in general are fed up with the government! Stop taking out your frustration on the folks trying to stop bomb’s from getting on planes.

  • TSAa**klown

    I have been a TSA screener for 4.5 years. I do not enjoy having to pat down people for all the various reasons and I don’t know anyone that does. I don’t enjoy taking things from you that you spent your hard earned money for. I WILL treat you so many ways I’m sure you will like one of them. You have my respect for trusting me with your life and the job you prvide me to support my family. TSA is very young still and we have growing pains just like any home, business, or organzation and it will take time to see what works best. The answer is not independant contractors. I would just be working for them and not nearly as happy. Being a Federal Employee means something to me. I’m proud of our Country and proud to work for TSA.
    If I (TSA) mistreats you, get a Supervisor involved. If you don’t report me then I can’t fix it.

    Let’s get along. And may you be early to all your gates !!!

  • john kotalik

    I have been a critic of TSA for many reasons. #1 it is very bureaucratic and operates in a gestapo fashion. For an example I was returning from Seattle to MSP and the screener 
    was very emphatic in informing me to let me know who the boss is around. In another instance the screener inspecting the boxed item when I made special provision for inspection created a condition that the item was damaged in shipment. A claim was submitted for $153 which was 1/2 of the original damaged assessment. The claim was rejected and on appeals it was rejected by the same individual. There final decision was that I could file it in US Federal District Court. Those cement heads do not realize that it cost $350 for filing plus you have to be represented by a lawyer. My grievances against this gestapo organization forces me not to air travel   

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