NEWS

DHS Inspector General: VIPR Program 'Bifurcated'

By Matthew Harwood

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) program of random pop-up patrols and screening checkpoints to deter terrorism at the nation’s most critical transportation hubs is “bifurcated” and needs to be centralized, according to a review of the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG found that the operational control of VIPR field personnel and assets was split between Federal Security Directors (FSDs), who are generally responsible for passenger screening operations, and Supervisory Federal Air Marshals in Charge, (SACs) who are generally responsible for counterterrorism patrols, both of whom report to different offices within TSA. This divide, the OIG found, means that the coordination of VIPR teams relies on a good working relationship between FSDs and SACs in their geographic areas of responsibility. In some areas, the report notes, FSDs and SACs create separate VIPR operations and coordinate sparingly.

To rectify what it considers an inefficiency, the OIG recommended that TSA give one office within the agency decision-making authority over the VIPR program to ensure FSDs and SACs are receiving and reading from the same script. TSA, however, disagreed.

In a letter in response to the OIG review, TSA Administrator John Pistole wrote:

"Given the designation of management responsibility and the collaborative management structure of the program organization, TSA believes its organization structure best serves the interests of internal and external stakeholders and does not intend to make additional organizational change."

The OIG, however, did not budge from its recommendation.

"Without additional modification, the VIPR Program will continue to operate inefficiently," the OIG warned. "Assigning decision-making authority to one TSA headquarters office to ensure that overall field operations, program activity and engagement, and oversight are coordinated effectively is prudent."

The VIPR program was created in late 2005 by former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley as a visible deterrent to terrorists planning to attack transportation infrastructure, such as airports and subway stations. In 2008, Congress began directly allocating money for the program, funding 10 teams.

Today, 25 teams, with 12 more in the pipeline, combine random and intelligence-based patrols and passenger screening operations at the nation’s biggest transportation hubs. Although flexible, VIPR teams can consist of federal air marshals (FAMs), surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers, and explosives detection canine teams.

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