Recent reports have found that incomplete and faulty data was used in the decision to determine whether airport screening processes should be privatized. The Homeland Security Department office of Inspector General claims that auditors have reviewed applications from five different airports that the Transportation Security Administration has approved for the program. This initiative became possible with the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act, or ATSA, required TSA to establish pilot projects at up to five airports where screening would be performed by employees of qualified private companies under federal oversight. The law required those contract screeners to meet all the requirements applicable to federal screeners.
According to the Homeland Security Department, the use of flawed data did not negatively impact the outcome of airport security so far. However, this finding is still worrisome for many. Flawed data can severely impact the quality of decision making and, in this case, the security of the nation.
The report found that the TSA did not document the rationale used to determine why four of the five contracts were awarded in 2011 and 2012. The lack of documentation of procedures to ensure that all evaluations and decisions were made in a similar manner and came from legitimate data makes the entire decision making process suspect. In addition, the holes in reasoning, lack of paperwork and lack of accurate data create reasonable questions surrounding a decision that has significant public safety ramifications.
As of January 2013, 16 airports were participating in the Screening Partnership Program. The program allowed an airport operator to use a private company to screen passengers and baggage rather than using personnel from the federal government, according to the report. The option was intended to allow operators more autonomy, increase local business and decrease costs taken on by Homeland Security.
The bigger issue is the lack of oversight of companies providing private screening services and how these individuals comply with training requirements. If faulty data is used to evaluate these companies that by definition are driven by profits and tend to cut costs where possible, the quality of the first line of defense in aviation security may suffer.
Using faulty data in the decision making process concerning national security can negatively impact the nation's safety. Federal and state officials rely on quality data to make informed decisions, which is why it is important to ensure that information collection is systematic, standardized and quality checked before it is used to support important decision making.
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