Lawmakers to TSA: Stop wasting money storing unused scanners and equipment

Lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday accused the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of wasting money on unused equipment.

The criticism came after the release of a report from the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) inspector general that showed the agency was spending $800,000 per year on warehouse space.

Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), said the equipment was piling up because the agency was rushing to keep up with the latest trends in airport security.

Hudson cited a 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that he said showed the TSA did not analyze the costs and benefits of its Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) X-ray machines before buying them. 

"That was nearly four years ago, and to my knowledge, no such comprehensive cost-benefit analysis has been completed," Hudson said Wednesday. 

Democrats on the panel have been equally upset about the TSA's spending on equipment and facilities.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said earlier this week that there are "serious deficiencies in TSA’s method for managing the storage of screening equipment," citing the DHS inspector general report.

"TSA must take immediate steps to stop spending $800,000 per year to lease space for obsolete and unusable technology. Every dollar wasted is a dollar that is not spent on protecting this nation and fixing known security vulnerabilities," Thompson said in a statement released prior to Wednesday's hearing.

TSA Assistant Administrator of Acquisitions Karen Shelton Waters defended the agency's processes for purchasing equipment on Wednesday.

Waters told the lawmakers on the panel that the TSA's equipment purchases were necessary to provide security for airline passengers.

"To fulfill its security responsibilities for deploying and operating state-of-the-art security technology at over 450 airports across the nation, TSA must be able to rapidly deploy technology to respond to changing threat information, or to have equipment ready to deploy when airport facilities are changed to accommodate the equipment," Waters said in testimony that was submitted to the panel.

Waters said the TSA was "developing, implementing and reporting acquisition metrics that coincide with TSA’s mission and vision as well as fully and adequately testing emerging technologies to ensure we are deploying and relying upon the best technologies available to protect transportation systems and travelers."

She added that the "TSA completes acquisition and procurement measures in close coordination with DHS acquisition-related organizations."

"This includes a robust test and evaluation capability that is utilized on screening equipment and encompasses the range of the systems’ engineering lifecycle from developmental to operational test and evaluation (T&E)," she said.

Hudson acknowledged that the TSA's efforts to document its purchases, but he said the agency needed to do more to cut spending on equipment.

"Our purpose today is to examine TSA procurement practices and identify ways this $7 billion agency can save taxpayer money and provide better security," he said. "Ultimately, these two goals are not mutually exclusive, but rather are dependent upon one another. Every dollar that can be saved from wasteful and duplicative programs, reforming broken processes, and increasing transparency can eventually be used to better protect passengers and confront emerging threats."

Hudson added in a reference to the AIT body scanner purchases that "while some improvements have been made, we simply cannot afford to repeat these types of mistakes."