Not like there aren’t enough reasons to pile on the TSA, but there’s one more area of concern. The TSA’s spending has spiraled beyond reasonable limits, with $14 billion being spent so far on 20,900 contracts.
A huge part ($8 billion) has been spent on new technology, with around $800 million spent on devices for screening baggage, shoes, liquids, etc.
But the one that has got them under the spotlight this time is the money being spent on airport screening technology for passengers. 500 of the new full body scanners will be in operation at airports by the end of 2010. The number doubles to 1000 in 2011, which means half of all airport security checkpoints will be covered.
The TSA wants to spend a further $1.3 billion next year on airport screening technologies, which would take the spend on full-body scanners to $2.4 billion. This huge spending on a single technology is causing a few worries about whether it’s like the puffer episode all over again.
The TSA spent $30 million on puffers aka Explosive Trace Portals (ETPs) starting with a pilot program in 2004 and followed it up with a bigger purchase of 207 units, with 94 units deployed at 37 airports. Way it worked was that passengers stepped into the machine and it would blow puffs of air to detect traces of explosives. It ended up as a complete failure and the machines have since been discarded and warehoused.
But the TSA isn’t worried that the full-body scanners could end up in the same warehouses as the puffers, and neither do they seem to be worried about a report which suggests that TSA checkpoints are unable to detect weapons 70% of the time.
In fact, they’re going all out to use new technology and improve on existing ones to reduce airport hassles and privacy concerns for passengers. This includes a new system that can scan shoes without passengers having to take them off, and another one that can identify liquids within opaque containers.
A software patch called ‘automated target recognition’ from Rapiscan Systems is trying to improve on the current full body scanner images by providing only an outline of the human body, along with colored squares within the image to point towards any foreign objects taped over or hidden within.
These moves and extreme spending on technology indicate that the TSA doesn’t see any changes to the current airport screening procedures. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said as much on CNN – that these changes, along with pat-downs as a backup option, are here to stay and the TSA doesn’t see any changes to the program in the foreseeable future.
This doesn’t offer much hope for a widespread implementation of the Trusted Traveler program the travel industry is asking for. Will the TSA be able to produce better results by trusting technology instead of travelers? They’re betting your billions of tax dollars on it.