Home / National News / TSA Behavior Profiling Wasteful, Not Proven Effective: GAO Report


(WASHINGTON) — The Government Accountability Office finds that the Transportation Security Administration’s behavioral screening program has wasted up to $1 billion and cannot be proven effective.

GAO released its report on the TSA Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program, also known as SPOT, where agents profile cagey looking people and engage them in conversation to determine whether they are up to no good.

The report entitled “Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities” found that the available evidence and data show that the program cannot be proven effective. The report also found that profiling is “probably no better than chance.”

Last May, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general released a report on SPOT that also found the pricey program is tough to prove effective.

“The report released today by GAO displays what I have been saying for years – that TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program is fundamentally flawed, cannot be proven effective, and should no longer be funded with taxpayer dollars,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wrote in a statement Wednesday.

Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security will hold a hearing to question GAO officials and TSA Administrator John Pistole about the report. The hearing will also examine the “initial lessons” learned from the shooting at LAX on November 1, according to committee aides.

The SPOT program costs more than $200 million per year, putting 3,000 behavior detection officers at 176 TSA-regulated airports in the United States, according to GAO.

Democrats contend that money could be put to use on other proven and effective measures to enhance aviation security.

“This report represents a serious indictment of TSA’s Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program,” Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, the ranking Democrat on the transportation security subcommittee, stated. “With a single report, GAO has displayed that the science behind the program is non-existent and that the study TSA cites in defending the program was fundamentally flawed. Given TSA’s unwillingness to concur with GAO’s recommendation that the agency limit funding for the program until it could be proven, it is now up to Congress to take a hard look at reprioritizing the funding for this program.  I trust that my colleagues will do just that.”

The report recommends that when making future funding decisions on the program, Congress consider the lack of scientifically validated evidence for using behavioral indicators to identify threats to aviation security.  DHS did not agree with the recommendation.

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