May 9, 2012 at 3:29 PM ET
A Congressional report released today accuses the Transportation Security Administration of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on screening technology and equipment that was not efficiently deployed at airports.
The report blasted the TSA for purchasing more explosive trace detectors (ETD) than necessary in order to receive a bulk discount and for warehousing 35 percent of security equipment for more than one year, among other claims.
The total value of equipment in storage is an estimated $184 million. The excessive number of ETD machines, which cost $30,000 each, amounted to nearly $44 million. The delay in deploying stored screening equipment resulted in depreciation estimated at $23 million.
The report also alleges that TSA may have broken the law by "knowingly providing [a] materially false warehouse inventory report to Congressional staff."
"The timely and effective deployment of screening technologies is essential to securing commercial aviation aircraft and maximizing taxpayer investment," said the report. "Committee staff uncovered that TSA continues to struggle to deploy and redeploy its screening technologies in a timely and efficient manner."
The is the second joint report criticizing the TSA published by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the past six months. Committee chairs Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) are both outspoken critics of the TSA.
The Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees TSA, has released a document in response to the report, arguing that security equipment is stored when airports are unable to install new technology and must await necessary infrastructure and staffing. It also says that TSA purchases technology in bulk in order to reduce overall cost. The recent acquisition of 2,000 ETD machines, for example, saved $3.5 million, according to DHS.
Having additional machines in storage also allows the agency some flexibility in responding to fluctuating threat assessments and security needs, according to DHS.
"To fulfill its security responsibilities, TSA rapidly deploys technology to respond to changing threat information, and stand up operations in locations affected by natural disasters and other crises," TSA spokesperson Sterling Payne said in a statement. "These factors and others require the agency to have a steady inventory of technology available to prevent supply disruptions from compromising aviation security."
In addition to slamming the agency for its equipment spending and deployment practices, the report called into question the TSA's use of advanced imaging technology (AIT) in full-body scanners. The report said that the machines were deployed "despite lingering passenger health concerns and uncertainty that AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 Underwear Bomber incident ..."
Citing U.S. officials, Reuters reported Tuesday that airport body scanners, which use light doses of radiation to scan through a passenger's clothes, ought to be able to detect "anomalies" — such as an underwear bomb — which could then be further examined in a hands-on, pat-down search.
Among many recommendations, the report suggests TSA require screening technologies be "reviewed and approved by an independent group of scientists;" cease all equipment purchases without a "bona fide" need; perform an internal review and cost-benefit analysis of all purchases and equipment deployment; limit excessive equipment storage times; and adjust TSA policy to "ensure compliance with Congressional oversight."
Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter here.
Reuters contributed to this report.