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No One Checks to Make Sure the TSA’s Screening Equipment Is Working Properly?

No One Checks to Make Sure the TSA’s Screening Equipment Is Working Properly?
Jennifer Billock

As of the end of 2018, the United States has about $3.1 billion in security screening equipment spread throughout the nation’s airports. Critics call it “security theater,” and honestly, they might be right. Upkeep on the machines is lacking.

What’s the Issue?

The United States Government Accountability Office released a report in December stating that even though all this security screening equipment is in place, it’s not periodically checked to make sure it’s working up to snuff. They’re basically set in place and left to work—for millions of passengers, year after year—without any status check-ins.

The report says it quite bluntly: “TSA does not ensure that screening technologies continue to meet detection requirements after deployment to airport.”

Why is that a Problem?

Essentially, that means Transportation Security Administration security screening checks are in jeopardy. The machines undergo never-ending stress and continuous use. It’s possible they don’t work as well as they once did. That means your liquids may not be completely scanned, or some sort of explosive isn’t detected because of regular wear and tear on the equipment. It’s just recalibrated every day to make sure it’s working, but not to check performance.

Why Hasn’t the TSA Fixed This?

It’s a problem of direction, apparently. Forbes said the TSA told the Government Accountability Office that it was never told how or when to check and make sure everything is working in tip-top shape. So far, no mandate has been set forth.

But Wait, There’s More

That’s not the only problem with TSA standards and procedures. There’s a list of other issues, as well, compiled by Forbes:

  • Guidance on developing new security standards hasn’t been updated since 2015
  • When new detection standards are introduced, they’re sometimes not implemented because the technology to meet those standards doesn’t exist
  • New threat assessment standard operating procedures are often not fully documented, and employees take that knowledge with them when they leave
  • The lack of documentation shows how unclear it is whether the TSA has actually been doing new threat assessments

Why Haven’t I Heard About This?

The Government Accountability Office released the report at a very inopportune time: tucked in among the holidays and impeachment proceedings.

View Comments (4)


  1. t_cliff

    February 14, 2020 at 6:30 pm

    So TSA has not professionalized?

  2. Spanish


    February 16, 2020 at 12:43 am

    Was the TSA provided with anything in regards to maintenance? I see the TSA statement to the GAO, but I find it hard to believe there’s a lack of mandated maintenance…

  3. Gigantor

    February 16, 2020 at 11:00 pm

    I just returned from a long weekend in Kiev.
    At KBP airport, yesterday, I sent my carry-on bag through the machine at the security checkpoint. Although I had a full plastic bottle of water (0.5l) in the bag, it was not detected. After drinking the water airside, I went to the airport information desk to report that my liquid went completely undetected at the security checkpoint. The woman agent was not surprised at all and told me that the equipment does not work.

  4. Annerk

    February 26, 2020 at 10:02 am

    On my last flight I had accidentally left a bottle of water in my carry on. It went through the scanner and wasn’t noticed. I didn’t even realize I still had it until I unpacked the bag the next morning. Even if I had realized while I was on the sterile concourse I wouldn’t have reported it, because I have no faith that they would try to turn the situation against me and arrest me for an honest mistake that should have been caught by their equipment and “professionals.”

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