May 14, 2012 at 3:38 PM ET
The Transportation Security Administration does a poor job of centrally tracking security breaches at airports, according to a report released by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General, which performs agency audits.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) requested the investigation last year after a series of security breaches at Newark Liberty Airport.
These incidents included a knife that passed through checkpoint screening, resulting in the closure of a terminal, and a dead dog that was transported on a flight without screening for explosives or disease.
The investigation found that TSA at Newark took corrective actions for only 42 percent of security breaches at the airport between January 1, 2010 to May 31, 2011. Most incidents in which corrective actions were not taken occurred in 2010; the airport's response to breaches improved after that year, according to the report. An evaluation of breaches at Newark and five comparable airports revealed that incidents led to corrective actions in just 53 percent of cases.
The redacted report did not identify how many incidents occurred or which airports were studied, though Sen. Lautenberg had requested a comparison of rates at other airports in the New York and New Jersey regions.
Finally, the report found that while TSA has programs to report and track security breaches, it does not have "a comprehensive mechanism" to centrally gather all incidents and is unable to use that information to study trends and make necessary improvements to security practices.
"This report identifies a gaping hole in our airport security system and gives us a framework for how to improve security at Newark Liberty Airport and all across the country," Lautenberg said in a statement. "The recent attempt by al-Qaida to take down a U.S.-bound airliner showed us that terrorists are still determined to exploit aviation security gaps in order to attack America.
Part of the tracking problem, according to the report, is that TSA's reporting system uses 33 categories to describe a security incident. As a result, the same breach at two different airports might be recorded differently. For example, two separate incidents involving an undetected knife were recorded as an "improper/no screening event" at one airport and a "sterile area access event" at another.
In addition, some TSA employees do not consistently report and track security breaches, leading to a disparity between the number of incidents recorded and those that occurred.
"Without accurate and complete information and analysis, TSA is limited in its ability to correct and resolve security vulnerabilities," the report said.
After reviewing the report, TSA agreed with its recommendations to agree on a single definition of "security breach" and to "enhance its oversight of airport security breaches."
David Castelveter, a spokesperson for TSA, told msnbc.com that the agency is currently "coordinating revisions" to develop a single definition of "security breach."
Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter here.
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