According to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), canine teams are not being effectively used in airports to screen people for explosives. The use of passenger-screening canines (PSCs) was mandated in the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Since then, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has tracked the use of PSC teams and the success of the PSC program. However, in reviewing the program at the request of Congress, the GAO found that the TSA should better analyze the performance of canine teams and should speed the use of PSC teams at high-risk airports.
The TSA tracks the use of PSC teams in several ways. It keeps records on training, use, certification, and the responses of the PSC teams. However, the GAO found that the TSA does not analyze the data thoroughly. For example, the TSA tracks the number of minutes a PSC team spends training each month but does not compare the monthly data. When it compared the data, the GAO found that some teams repeatedly failed to comply with the monthly training requirements. The GAO wrote that the TSA agreed that “it would be useful to monitor compliance with training requirements over time to ensure [that] canine teams maintain their proficiency in detecting explosives....”
The GAO also took issue with how teams were deployed. The PSC teams should have been deployed to the airports deemed highest risk by the TSA. However, the GAO found that law enforcement officers at many of these airports were concerned about working with civilian canine handlers because the two groups had different protocols when responding to emergencies. For example, seven airports have declined the use of PSC teams because of concerns that the TSA’s reponse protocols for dealing with suicide bombers were inadequate. These conflicts have led to the TSA deploying the PSC teams only to airports willing to take them. The GAO also found that, at the two high-risk airports that accepted the PSC teams, the dogs were being used to screen cargo rather than passengers.
In response to the GAO findings, t he Department of Homeland Security announced that it will correct these issues and have PSC teams appropriately deployed by the end of 2013.
Photo from flickr by Kuster and Wildhaber