WASHINGTON -- Thousands of pieces of security equipment that cost taxpayers an estimated $184 million and were supposed to be installed at airport checkpoints to screen passengers are collecting dust in government warehouses, a joint congressional panel reported Wednesday.
"Airport Insecurity: TSA’s Failure to Cost-Effectively Procure, Deploy and Warehouse its Screening Technologies" details how 85 percent of about 5,700 security units is warehoused at a Transportation Security Administration facility in Dallas. Annual storage costs at the Transportation Logistics Center, the report noted, top $3.5 million annually.
The investigative report was produced by the Republican staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired By Rep. Darrell Issa of California, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, headed by Rep. John Mica of Florida.
“TSA continues to demonstrate its penchant for bungling aviation security and wasting taxpayers’ money," Mica said at a hearing on the report Wednesday. "The CIA uncovered terrorists’ latest modified underwear bomb plot, but TSA has repeatedly failed to effectively procure and deploy screening equipment that actually detects threats, and incredible amounts of its state-of-the-art technology is gathering dust in Texas warehouses. Significant reform is necessary to transform this bloated and inefficient bureaucracy into the effective security agency it needs to be.”
"Money spent on equipment sitting in a warehouse in excess is money not spent on the front lines,” said Issa. "This is not a security operation, but rather a recipe for waste and abuse.”
According to the committee's report, as of Feb. 15, 2012:
- About 85 percent of the approximately 5,700 pieces of security equipment was stored for longer than six months; 35 percent had been stored for more than one year. One piece of equipment had been in storage more than six years.
- There were 472 carry-on baggage screening machines in the warehouse, 34 percent of which had been stored for longer than a year.
- The committee estimated the delayed deployment of TSA equipment "has resulted in a massive depreciated loss of equipment utility at an estimated cost to taxpayers of nearly $23 million."
- TSA had 1,462 explosive-trace detectors worth nearly $44 million in storage, far more than it could use in the 463 airports where TSA provides screening operations. When asked why the agency bought so many, agency officials said they needed that many in order to get a discount.
The 22-page committee report said the TSA "intentionally delayed Congressional oversight of the Transportation Logistics Center (TLC) and provided inaccurate, incomplete, and potentially misleading information to Congress in order to conceal the agency’s continued mismanagement of warehouse operations." It said the TLC tried to hide roughly 1,300 pieces of screening equipment from congressional investigators and provided staffers with a list of disposed items "that falsely identified disposal dates and directly contradicted the inventory of equipment" in a report to committee staff.
The committee made a series of recommendations to TSA aimed at ensuring equipment is actually needed before it is purchased.
The TSA defended buying equipment in bulk, saying it saved taxpayers money and that machines have been kept in warehouses at times because airports weren't ready to accept them. The agency said as of Wednesday there are only two AIT machines in storage.
“TSA is responsible for deploying and operating state-of-the-art security technology at over 450 airports across the nation. To fulfill its security responsibilities, TSA rapidly deploys technology to respond to changing threat information, and stand-up operations in locations affected by natural disasters and other crises," said TSA spokesman Matthew Chandler.
"These factors and others require the agency to have a steady inventory of technology available to prevent supply disruptions from compromising aviation security. The overwhelming majority of all screening equipment that is currently in storage (nearly 80 percent) has been warehoused for less than a year," he said. "After technology is tested, TSA must fulfill a number of requirements prior to deploying machines, such as establishing sufficient and qualified staff to operate the new equipment and ensuring the assigned airport has the infrastructure in place to accept it.”
UPDATE: 12:13 p.m. -- This story has been updated to reflect comments made today by a TSA spokesman.