It turns out the TSA’s screener-training program suffers from systemic problems, including a shortage of on-the-job training monitors, slow or malfunctioning computers, and managers who fail to give TSOs enough time to keep up to date on their their legally-required training, according to a timely report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General.
“TSOs described rushing through course material without devoting the attention needed to retain the lessons,” reads the report, which is dated Oct. 26, and was made public last week. “TSA officials agreed that if TSOs hurry through training courses because they are not being allocated sufficient time by management or they do not have access to training computers, they may not receive adequate or quality training.” (.pdf)
DHS investigators visited eight high-traffic international airports and interviewed 385 TSOs to determine how much initial and ongoing training the screeners were actually getting. Under federal law, TSOs must get 40 hours of initial classroom instruction, 60 hours of on-the-job training, and periodic recurrent training to keep them up to speed on the latest procedures and gear.
Most of the problems were found in on-the-job and recurrent training. At five of the sampled airports, only one on-the-job training monitor was allocated for the entire airport. The computers used for recurrent training were slow and prone to occasional crashes, and they were distributed haphazardly among the airports — one airport had one training machine for every 32 screeners, another had one for each.
The training machines were sometimes deployed to break rooms or near the bustling checkpoints, areas “not conducive to learning,” the report notes.
And when a new generation of X-ray machine was installed at 81 airports, unspecified “software problems” kept the training computers from being updated. As a result, the TSO’s were being trained with images from older-generation equipment, “which limits their ability to identify prohibited items using the current checkpoint equipment.”
In comments to the report, the TSA accepted most of the criticism, and wrote that it’s in the final stages of formalizing its on-the-job training program. The TSA vowed to reassess its allocation of training computers, and is forming a working group to identify training requirements and IT capabilities needed to support them. It may also try “interactive web-based training solutions” for screeners.
But the TSA bristled at the insinuation that training screeners with images from first-generation X-ray machines was ineffective. “[W]hile technologies with enhanced capabilities are being introduced into the airports, the basics of X-ray image interpretation will not change,” the agency wrote.
The report does not specifically address training for the Advanced Imaging Technology scanners, or the new aggressive pat-downs used on passengers who decline the naked body scan.