GAO makes recommendations to improve foreign airport assessments, inspections despite recent improvements

Despite gains made by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in foreign airport assessments and air carrier inspections, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found “considerable regional variation” in compliance with security standards and recommended practices.

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The GAO looked at approximately 300 foreign airports that serve as last points of departures into the United States. The study’s goal was to evaluate TSA’s progress in enhancing assessments and air carrier inspections, the result of those assessments and inspections, and steps taken to address deficiencies.

Since 2011, TSA has improved foreign airport assessments and air carrier inspections by aligning resources based on risk, targeting high-risk regions with enhanced assessments and inspections, and taking part in more joint assessments with the European Commission, the study found.

However, lack of sufficient airport resources and technical knowledge contributed to foreign airports’ “considerable regional variation” in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization security standards and recommended practices, the study found.

“TSA officials also stated that while these challenges are not easy to overcome, agency efforts, such as training host country staff, can help foreign airports reduce their vulnerability scores over time,” GAO stated. “GAO’s analysis of TSA’s foreign airport assessment data confirmed that point by demonstrating that most foreign airports categorized with poor vulnerability ratings in fiscal year 2012 improved their vulnerability score in at least one follow-up assessment during fiscal years 2012 through 2016.”

Foreign air carriers providing service into the United States were in compliance with TSA security requirements in “most’ instances, the study found. TSA used “on-the-spot counseling” to address security deficiencies and, in some cases, submitted violations for security lapses that warranted enforceable action.

“To help strengthen TSA’s analysis and decision making, GAO recommends that TSA fully capture and more specifically categorize data on the root causes of security deficiencies that it identifies and corrective actions,” GAO stated. “TSA concurred with the recommendations.”

The study was conducted under a provision of the Aviation Security Act of 2016. TSA does not have authority to enforce security requirements at foreign airports, but it is required under law to conduct assessments.