Auditors: DHS fumbles transportation security research

The Homeland Security Department has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on more than 200 research and development projects for transportation security, but auditors found that the department lacks adequate strategic plans for the spending.

The Government Accountability Office also said in a report issued today that DHS and its Transportation Security Administration have no estimated deployment dates for most of the projects and have failed to coordinate the research with other federal agencies and the private sector.

The transportation security research includes several projects that rely heavily on IT development, such as improved systems for screening baggage, the troubled Transportation Worker Identification Credential project to deploy smart cards widely and the Conveyance Tracking Program for monitoring hazardous material shipments.

DHS and TSA generally agreed with the report's findings and recommendations.

In fiscal 2003, TSA spent about $21 million on research. The agency budgeted about $159 million in 2004. DHS spent and budgeted $26 million and $86 million on transportation security research in those years.

TSA and DHS lack databases for tracking the progress of their dozens of research projects, the auditors found. TSA has a basic strategic plan for its R&D, but the document lacks measurable objectives for tracking projects. According to the GAO report available here, DHS is preparing a separate R&D plan with specific goals and objectives.

GAO found fault with the agencies' policy of not funding any basic research projects in the transportation security field. The audit agency noted that the National Research Council recommends that such programs include basic research funding.

The agency convened a panel of experts who recommended more emphasis on certain technologies, such as systems that would combine inspections for various types of risks. The experts also said some of TSA's projects should not have been funded because existing commercial technologies are very good.

The homeland security agencies should work harder to coordinate their transportation security research with private companies as well as with other federal agencies such as the Transportation Department and NASA, GAO said.

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