TSA looks to automate and upgrade security tech

Transportation Security Administration officials want to make good on old priorities to improve technology at airport security checkpoints.

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The Transportation Security Administration is anticipating deploying better identification document handling and luggage screening technologies at airport security checkpoints, but it is still looking to industry for more big ideas that will help its mission, according to top technology and acquisition executives.

"We've been trying to deploy CATs [credential authentication technology] since 2008," said Latetia Henderson, assistant administrator of acquisition program management at TSA, in remarks at a June 20 industry day in Washington, D.C.

"It's an old priority, but it is my No. 1 priority," said Henderson of the technology that will allow passengers to have their government-issued identification documents scanned electronically at checkpoints. The process promises to speed passengers through the security check and provide more security efficiency.

The agency has been testing CAT, she said, and is moving to implement it soon. The CAT systems are the first IT systems to be deployed at the checkpoint, so they will have to optimize its operational performance, she said.

With passenger ranks increasing and agency budgets shrinking, TSA is looking at the challenge of getting people through airport checkpoints more efficiently without compromising security, said Austin Gould, assistant administrator of TSA's Requirements and Capabilities Analysis Office.

"For us, it's checkpoint CT [computed tomography], more accurate screening of luggage," he said. The agency is deploying more of the sophisticated scanning equipment that produces fewer false alarms, he said. Even with the more efficient CAT document processing and the more accurate CT screening of luggage, however, Gould said TSA will need help with developing more accurate and efficient "on-person screening" technologies and processes. "The objective is how do you get people though the checkpoint more quickly, but not compromise security."

The IT office's first priority is to tie all those operational components together, said Russell Roberts, TSA CIO and assistant administrator, information technology.

"My first and most important priority is to stabilize the networks" that support the agency, he said. "We have to stabilize all of the systems that we use to support the agency's counterterrorism mission."

"Cybersecurity is critical," he said referencing the recent news that one of Customs and Border Protection's contractors had recently been breached. "There's lots of horror stories out there."

"If you want to do business with us you'd better be good at cybersecurity," he said.

Delivering technology that TSA's airport partners can work with is also important, he said.

Both TSA and the Department of Homeland Security are looking for increasingly close ties with industry and with airport and travel industry stakeholders to solve problems in innovative ways, according to top TSA and DHS officials headlining the industry day.

TSA's three strategic priorities, said Patricia Cogswell, the agency's acting deputy administrator, are to enhance security, develop its workforce and accelerate action from identifying threats to fielding solutions.

Industry and stakeholders such as airports will play an increasingly larger role in addressing those priorities, she said. The key to the future, she said, is to stop saying, "We always did it that way."

DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa, who appeared onstage with Cogswell at the TSA event, agreed. She pointed to her agency's repeated efforts to bring industry in on developing technology and contracts early and often, as well as to engage potential contractors who have never worked with the federal government before.