TSA Targets 50% Cargo Screening Goal

By John M. Doyle

The Transportation Security Administration will be screening more than 50% of all cargo shipped on board passenger aircraft by a February 2009 deadline, a top agency official says.

TSA is directing its inspector, canine and technology resources to the 18 highest-volume cargo airports and by February 2009, "expects that all cargo will be screened on aircraft carrying 80%" of U.S. air passengers, TSA Assistant Administrator John Sammon told a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing yesterday.

Legislation passed last year and signed into law by President Bush requires TSA to screen 50% of all cargo shipped across or out of the U.S. on passenger aircraft by next February and 100% of all cargo on passenger aircraft by August 2010.

The cargo-screening requirement was among those recommended by the presidential commission that investigated the causes and U.S. government response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The legislation does not specify what kind of technology TSA is to use only that it be "in a manner that results in a level of security commensurate with that of checked baggage."

TSA plans to use a wide array of screening methods, including explosives detector dogs, X-ray and explosives detection technologies and is developing a program allowing screening of air cargo at various points throughout the air cargo supply chain.

But the Government Accountability Office notes in its testimony before the House subcommittee that there will still be loopholes in the TSA plan. In particular, TSA has no plans to screen air cargo inbound to the U.S. from overseas on foreign carriers.

The GAO adds that TSA also plans to continue to exempt some types of domestic and outbound cargo from screening. TSA has not completed its air cargo vulnerability assessments and doesn't have a timetable yet for doing so, GAO says.

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