TSA ineffectively using bomb-sniffing dogs, GAO report finds

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is whiffing in the way it uses bomb-sniffing dogs, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).   

The GAO report said the TSA fails to completely analyze data collected by the passenger and cargo screening dogs.

The result is that trends are being missed and dogs are being deployed ineffectively, according to the analysis.

"TSA has not deployed passenger screening canines (PSC) — trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person — consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine PSC teams’ effectiveness prior to deployment," the GAO report says. "TSA’s 2012 Strategic Framework calls for the deployment of PSC teams based on risk; however, GAO found that PSC teams have not been deployed to the highest-risk airport locations." 

"TSA officials stated that the agency generally defers to airport officials on whether PSC teams will be deployed, and some airport operators have decided against the use of PSC teams at their airports because of concerns related to the composition and capabilities of PSC teams," the report continued. "As a result of these concerns, the PSC teams deployed to higher-risk airport locations are not being used for passenger screening as intended, but for other purposes, such as screening air cargo or training."

The GAO said of TSA's canine deployment that "more comprehensive testing could provide TSA with greater assurance that PSC teams are effective in identifying explosives odor on passengers and provide an enhanced security benefit." 

The agency is recommending that TSA "regularly analyze data to identify program trends and areas working well or in need of corrective action" and "take actions to comprehensively assess the effectiveness" of passenger screening dogs.

"If PSCs are determined to be effective, GAO is recommending that TSA coordinate with stakeholders to deploy PSC teams to the highest-risk airport locations and utilize them as intended," the report said.

TSA said it "conducts monthly reviews of participant compliance with program objectives," but the agency also said it "acknowledges the need to further examine the data collected over a longer term."   

To make that a reality, TSA said it would "reestablish annual comprehensive assessments" for its canine program. 

"Beginning in March 2013, TSA plans to expand the Canine website to improve functionality and reporting capabilities addressing a GAO recommendation," the agency said. 

"TSA will continue to collaborate with the DHS Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) to conduct capabilities assessments of the NCP in airports across the country addressing a GAO recommendation," the agency's statement continued. 

"The NCP is executing a new training and assessment initiative designed to identify optimal passenger screening canine working zones for the 120 teams that were authorized for deployment by the end of fiscal year 2013."

The GAO report can be found here.