Posthearing Questions Related to Aviation and Port Security

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-12-12.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548

          December 12, 2003

          The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings
          Ranking Member
          Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
          United States Senate

          Subject: Posthearing Questions Related to Aviation and Port Security

          Dear Senator Hollings:

          This letter responds to your November 17, 2003, request that we provide answers to
          questions relating to our September 9, 2003, testimony on transportation security.1
          The questions posed by Senator Frank Lautenberg to GAO, along with our responses,

          1. I am concerned that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the
             Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are dealing with our
             nation’s pressing life and death security needs by playing shell games with
             critical resources. Last week, Secretary Ridge announced that 5,000 new
             air marshals would be trained, but that these individuals would come from
             the existing ranks of custom and immigration agents. During high-threat
             periods, this cross-training plan might enhance air security but will come
             at the expense of border and ground security. Under the Administration’s
             plan to utilize current immigration and customs employees to double as
             air marshals, how will DHS ensure that, during high-threat periods, there
             are adequate personnel both in air marshal roles and at the border as
             customs/immigration agents?

          DHS’s plan does not explicitly address the adequacy of the current immigration,
          customs, and air marshal workforces to address concurrent high threats to border,
          ground, and aviation security. Rather, the plan provides for temporarily enhancing
          the air marshal workforce to respond to high threats to aviation. Specifically,
          according to Secretary Ridge, cross-training immigration and customs officers in air

           U.S. General Accounting Office, Aviation Security: Progress Since September 11, 2001, and the
          Challenges Ahead, GAO-03-1150T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003) and U.S. General Accounting
          Office, Maritime Security: Progress Made in Implementing Maritime Transportation Security Act,
          but Concerns Remain, GAO-03-1155T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003).

                                                           GAO-04-315R Aviation and Port Security
marshal tactics would give DHS greater flexibility to adjust its law enforcement
resources according to varying threats and provide a surge capacity during periods of
high threats to aviation. The immigration and customs officers would not be used as
air marshals during every high-threat period; they would be used as such only when
there was a high risk to aviation.

DHS’s cross-training plan could have some benefits; but, as we recently reported, it
also poses training and administrative challenges. According to the Secretary, the
cross-training for immigration and customs agents and federal air marshals will be
centralized. Centralization could eventually produce some cost efficiencies.
However, cross-training will expand the roles and responsibilities of all three law-
enforcement workforces; and a needs assessment will have to be conducted to
identify each workforce’s additional training requirements. Cross-training
requirements and curriculums also will have to be established and approved. In
addition, each affected workforce’s organization will have to coordinate the new
training requirements with its other mission requirements, as it schedules its officers
for cross-training. Finally, planned changes in the roles and responsibilities of the
federal law enforcement officers could have implications for their performance
evaluations and compensation. Currently, the three law enforcement workforces are
under different pay systems and are compensated at different rates. DHS has efforts
under way to deal with these issues.

2. Are any new air marshals currently being trained?

New air marshals are currently being hired and provided basic training at the rate of
about one class per month, a rate sufficient to offset attrition and maintain the
current number of air marshals. According to the Federal Air Marshals Service, there
is no surge in hiring or training forecasted because the goal for hiring air marshals set
by the Secretary of Transportation after September 11, 2001, was met in July 2002, as

In addition to the required basic training, the Service instituted a 4-week advanced
training course for air marshals in October 2002. All air marshals hired from October
2001 through July 2002 were required to complete the course by January 2004. Air
marshals hired after August 2002 attend this advanced training course after
completing their basic training. In August 2003, the Service reported that proposed
cutbacks in its training funds would require it to extend the January 2004 date to mid-
2004. According to DHS, the Service’s transfer to Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) will not adversely affect either the funding for air marshals’
training or the schedule for newly hired air marshals to complete the 4-week training
course, since a total of $626.4 million is being transferred from TSA to ICE. However,
it is not clear how much of the funding will be allocated for training. Given the
importance of training to ensure that air marshals are prepared to carry out their

 U.S. General Accounting Office, Aviation Security: Federal Air Marshal Service Is Addressing
Challenges of Its Expanded Mission and Workforce, but Additional Actions Needed, GAO-04-242
(Washington, D.C.: Nov. 19, 2003).

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mission, we believe that maintaining adequate funding for training should remain a

3. DHS has recently tried to divert $30 million from the Operation Safe
   Commerce pilot program intended to identify and implement the systemic
   port security initiation in order to cover a budget shortfall in airport
   security. Do you believe federal port security programs are adequately

Effective maritime security requires the ability to put preventive systems, controls,
and infrastructure in place. According to transportation security experts and state
and local government and industry representatives we contacted, funding is the most
pressing challenge to accomplishing this task. While some security improvements
are inexpensive, most require substantial funding. Additionally, given the large
number of assets to protect, the sum of even relatively less expensive investments
can be cost prohibitive. According to Coast Guard estimates, the cost of
implementing the new International Maritime Organization security code and the
security provisions in the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002 will
be approximately $1.5 billion for the first year and $7.4 billion over the succeeding
decade. These costs are substantial sums, but it is not clear at this point how the
costs will be paid, as the following examples illustrate.

Funding difficulties can be seen in the implementation of TSA’s Transportation
Worker Identification Card (TWIC). Although no national estimates of the cost are
currently available, they are likely to be substantial. According to a TSA official,
nationwide the agency expects to issue five to six million identification cards a year
from mid-2004 to the end of 2007. In our work at Los Angeles, port authority officials
expressed concern about how much it may cost to implement this card and all the
steps and equipment associated with it, such as the installation of card readers
throughout the port, the issuance of cards to port personnel, and adding staff to
operate and maintain the system. A study for the ports of Los Angeles and Long
Beach estimates that it will cost at least $45 million to perform the necessary start-up
tasks. Because of these significant costs, maritime stakeholders are concerned about
who will ultimately pay for the TWIC. One port authority official indicated that the
cost may be passed on to workers as a cost of their employment.

Another example of funding difficulties can be seen at the federal level, where an
MTSA requirement for a vessel identification system is being phased in over time,
partly because of funding limitations. This identification system, called the
Automated Identification System (AIS), uses a device aboard a vessel to transmit a
unique identifying signal to a receiver located at the port and to other ships in the
area. This information gives port officials and other vessels nearly instantaneous
information about a vessel’s identity, position, speed, and course. Such a system

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would provide an “early warning” of an unidentified vessel or a vessel that was in a
location where it should not be. MTSA requires that vessels in certain categories
install tracking equipment between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2004, with the
specific date dependent on the type of vessel and when it was built. Effectively
implementing the system requires considerable land-based equipment and other
infrastructure that is not currently available in many ports. As a result, for the
foreseeable future, the system will be available in less than half of the 25 busiest U.S.

Installing AIS at the remaining ports depends in part on when funding will be
available. The only ports with the necessary infrastructure to use AIS are those that
have waterways controlled by Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) systems. Expanding
coverage will require substantial additional investment, both public and private. The
Coast Guard’s budget request for fiscal year 2004 includes $40 million for shore-based
AIS equipment and related infrastructure—an amount that covers only current VTS
areas. According to a Coast Guard official, wider-reaching national implementation of
AIS would involve installation and training costs ranging from $62 million to $120
million. Also, the cost of installing AIS equipment aboard individual ships averages
about $10,000 per vessel, which is to be borne by the vessel owner or operator. Some
owners and operators, particularly of domestic vessels, have complained about the
cost of equipping their vessels.

As we suggested in our testimony,6 where the money will come from to meet these
funding needs is not clear. One theme we have heard from maritime stakeholders is
that the current economic environment makes this a difficult time for the private
industry or state and local governments to make security investments. According to
industry representatives and experts we contacted, most of the transportation
industry operates on a very thin profit margin, making it difficult to pay for additional
security measures. In addition, nearly every state and local government is facing a
large budget deficit for fiscal year 2004. For example, the National Governors
Association estimates that states are facing a total budget shortfall of $80 billion this
upcoming year. Given the tight budget environment, state and local governments and
transportation operators must make difficult trade-offs between transportation
security investments and other needs, such as service expansion and equipment
upgrades. According to the National Association of Counties, many local
governments are planning to defer some maintenance of their transportation
infrastructure to pay for some security enhancements. At the same time however, the

  All vessels of certain specifications on international voyages; self-propelled commercial vessels 65 feet or more in
length; towing vessels 26 feet or more in length and more than 600 horsepower; vessels of 100 gross tons or more
carrying one or more passengers for hire; and passenger vessels certificated to carry 50 or more passengers for
In addition to Los Angeles/Long Beach, the other ports currently scheduled to have this system are New
York/New Jersey; the mouth of the Mississippi River; New Orleans; Houston/Galveston; Port Arthur, Texas; San
Francisco; Seattle/Tacoma; Alaska’s Prince William Sound; and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
 Similar to air traffic control systems, VTS uses radar, closed circuit television, radiophones, and other technology
to allow monitoring and management of vessel traffic from a central shore-based location.

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federal government faces its own challenges in finding considerable additional
funding. Due to the costs of security enhancements and the transportation industries’
and state and local governments’ tight budget environments, the federal government
is likely to be viewed as a source of funding for at least some of these enhancements.
While federal moneys have been made available, requests for federal funding for
transportation security enhancements will likely continue to exceed available
resources, given the constraints on the federal budget as well as competing claims for
federal assistance.

                                       - - - - -

In responding to these questions, we relied primarily on our past work. We reviewed
and analyzed data provided by the Federal Air Marshal Service and interviewed DHS
officials. In addition, we visited the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to obtain
the views of port officials.

Should you or your office have any questions on aviation matters discussed in this
report, please contact Gerald Dillingham at (202) 512-2834. For questions on
maritime issues, please contact Margaret Wrightson at (415) 904-2200. Key
contributors to this report include Steve Calvo, John W. Shumann, and Teresa Spisak.

Sincerely yours,

Gerald L. Dillingham
Director, Civil Aviation Issues

Margaret Wrightson
Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues


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