Airport body scanners go unused, waste millions, report concludes
Some of the body scanners that peer through passengers' clothing at U.S. airport checkpoints often go unused, wasting millions of dollars, a government report found.
WASHINGTON — Some of the body scanners that peer through passengers' clothing at U.S. airport checkpoints often go unused, wasting millions of dollars, a government report found.
Scanners at a portion of the airports were used as little as 5 percent of the days after they were installed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Stephen Lord, director of homeland security and justice issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), said in testimony prepared for a House hearing Monday.
"The limited use of some of these machines may indicate that there was not a clear need for them at the time they were acquired at the locations in which they were deployed," Lord said in testimony at a joint hearing of the House oversight and transportation committees.
The scanners, made by L-3 Communications Holdings and OSI Systems' Rapiscan, were deployed after the unsuccessful bombing attempt Dec. 25, 2009, of a Northwest Airlines flight near Detroit. A suspected terrorist smuggled explosives onto the flight in his underwear past airport metal detectors. The bomb failed to detonate.
While not addressing the GAO's specific points, J. Kawika Riley, a TSA spokesman, acknowledged in an email statement that the initial placement of the scanners was "not optimal." The agency is taking steps to use them more efficiently, Riley said.
Lord's testimony doesn't say how many scanners aren't being used or identify the airports.
Some scanners are used less than 30 percent of the time, according to Lord's testimony. At one of 12 airports that GAO investigators visited, the TSA deployed three scanners in a terminal that typically handled one flight a day with about 230 passengers.
Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is chairman of the Oversight Committee, called the TSA "bloated" and likened U.S. airport security to a leaky ship.
Lord, in his testimony, also questioned the effectiveness of a TSA program intended to detect suspicious behavior.
"Questions related to the program's validity will remain" until the agency demonstrates conclusively that it can identify terrorists and improve security, according to the GAO testimony.
The TSA has about 3,000 officers trained to detect suspicious behavior at about 160 airports, according to the testimony.
There have been 2,273 arrests after TSA officers questioned people under the program, according to the agency's written testimony. TSA officials told the GAO that they weren't aware of any terrorist or person planning to engage in terrorist-related activities who had been arrested under the program, Lord said in his written testimony.