Aviation Security

Implementation of Recommendations Is Under Way, but Completion Will Take Several Years Gao ID: RCED-98-102 April 24, 1998

In recent years, GAO and others have reported on vulnerabilities plaguing the nation's aviation system, the availability and limitations of explosives detection technologies used at airports, and efforts under way to improve aviation security. Terrorism was initially considered a possible cause of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 and helped focus national attention on the system's vulnerabilities. The President formed the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security following the crash, and later congressional hearings highlighted continuing weaknesses in the U.S. aviation security system. Although terrorism has been since ruled out as a factor in the crash of TWA Flight 800, ensuing studies found that weaknesses persist. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), other government agencies, and the aviation industry are now implementing 31 of the Commission's recommendations on aviation security. Some of these recommendations are similar to legislative mandates that Congress enacted under the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 1996. This report provides information on (1) the tracking, monitoring, and coordinating activities undertaken by the agencies responsible for implementing the Commission's recommendations and (2) FAA's progress in implementing eight of these recommendations, five of which are similar to mandates contained in the Reauthorization Act of 1996. GAO summarized this report in testimony before Congress; see: Aviation Security: Progress Being Made, but Long-term Attention Is Needed, by Keith O. Fultz, Assistant Comptroller General for Resources, Community, and Economic Development Issues, before the Subcommittee on Aviation, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. GAO/T-RCED-98-190, May 14 (12 pages).

GAO noted that: (1) FAA is responsible for implementing 21 of the Commission's 31 aviation security recommendations and most of the Reauthorization Act's aviation security mandates; (2) FAA developed a computerized system to track its progress in implementing each of the Commission's recommendations; (3) in addition, FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel established a separate computerized system for tracking the activities required of the agency under the Reauthorization Act; (4) eight other federal agencies, each of which is responsible for implementing the Commission's other aviation security recommendations, track progress through the operations of their program and budget offices; (5) although the Department of Transportation's Office of the Secretary provides quarterly reports to the National Security Council and sends an annual report to the Vice President, neither the Security Council nor any other agency is responsible for monitoring all of the agencies' implementation efforts or ensuring coordination between agencies; (6) without such oversight and coordination, issues that arise between agencies may go unresolved; (7) of the three recommendations GAO reviewed that FAA planned to complete in FY 1997, FAA has totally implemented only one; (8) this recommendation--to give properly cleared air carrier and airport security personnel access to classified information they need to know--was completed on schedule; (9) FAA has largely implemented the second recommendation--to establish procedures for identifying passengers before they board an aircraft--through a series of directives, one of which requires that passengers provide a valid form of identification at the check-in counter; (10) the third recommendation--to voluntarily establish a partnership between airport and air carrier officials and law enforcement agencies to implement security enhancements--has not been expanded to an additional 200 airports beyond the 41 established as a result of the Commission's initial report and is 15 months behind schedule; (11) FAA has made progress but encountered delays in implementing the five recommendations made by the Commission and the similar mandates contained in the Reauthorization Act; and (12) these delays have occurred, in large part, because the recommendations involve new technologies and, in some cases, require FAA to issue regulations.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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