TSA equipment gathering dust, House investigators say

The Transportation Security Administration has shelved $184 million in security equipment in a Texas warehouse rather than in the airports for which it was bought, according to a report compiled by House Republican investigators.

When House investigators sought information about the stored material, the TSA “provided inaccurate, incomplete, and potentially misleading information . . . to conceal the agency’s mismanagement of warehouse operations.”

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TSA operations have come under repeated fire from Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who advocates scaling down the agency and farming out many of its duties to private contractors.

Central to Mica’s criticism has been the contention that the TSA has wasted money on equipment that wasn’t fully tested and did not live up to expectations. He also has questioned the speed with which new devices are deployed to airports.

The report is consistent with his belief, saying the TSA “is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars by inefficiently deploying screen equipment.”

The agency, which had not been provided with a copy of the report, did not respond to a request Tuesday afternoon for comment.

The TSA, charged with protecting travelers from terrorist attacks, has become the agency that many Americans and members of Congress love to hate. Passengers have bridled at long lines at airport security checkpoints, rebelled against revealing body scanners and regularly used cellphones to record incidents that blossomed briefly into national cable network scandals.

TSA administrator John S. Pistole has responded to the criticism and sought to refine his agency’s approach by moving to a more risk-based process that focuses on intelligence to identify potential threats.

The scathing report will be presented Wednesday at a joint hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. David R. Nicholson, chief financial officer of the TSA, and Charles K. Edwards, acting inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, are scheduled to testify. The committees also will hear from Stephen M. Lord, homeland security director at the Government Accountability Office and past critic of TSA performance.

The report by staff investigators said the TSA was slow to supply them with an inventory of the warehoused equipment and then stalled their efforts to visit the site. The delay was a deliberate effort to get rid of 1,300 pieces of unused screening equipment before investigators arrived in February, the report said.

“When our guys went down there, the manager told them they’d been trying to move stuff out so we wouldn’t see it,” said a committee staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity so that he could be candid before the report’s release Wednesday.

Despite the effort to remove the equipment, the report said, the warehouse contained 5,700 pieces of equipment, at least 100 more than the number included in the inventory TSA provided to the committee.

In providing Congress with an allegedly false warehouse inventory, the report said, the TSA may have violated the law.

 
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