TSA Puts Millions of Dollars of Equipment in Storage

House Oversight Committee says TSA wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on unproven equipment.

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The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says the Transportation Security Administration is wasting taxpayers' money again, this time by holding more than 5,000 pieces of security equipment, valued at upwards of $180 million in a Texas warehouse.

[See a collection of political cartoons on airport security.]

"Little has changed in the past three years and the systemic flaws continue to plague the TSA," committee chairman California Republican Darrell Issa said in a statement. "These flaws are exacerbated by a management structure that seems content to throw millions of dollars at untested solutions that are bought in excess and poorly deployed and managed. That is not a security operation, but rather a recipe for disaster."

The TSA argues that it isn't wasting resources, but is merely adapting to security threats. TSA says most items in its storage unit are deployed in a timely manner.

"We continue to evolve our security approach, by examining our procedures the technologies we use and how screening is conducted," says David R. Nicholson, the Chief Financial Officer for the TSA.

The committee's report shows that 85 percent of the equipment in the TSA warehouse as of February had been stored for more than six months and 35 percent of it had been there longer than a year. The same report shows TSA has nearly 1,500 Explosive Track Detectors, bag screening devices, in its storage facility in Texas. In order to get a discount on the machines, TSA admits they bought more machines then they needed with the expectation that eventually its supply would meet demand.

But storing the equipment in the warehouse isn't cheap.

The Transportation Logistics Center where the equipment is held costs $3.5 million a year to maintain.

The Committee's report comes at a time when airport security is once again on the minds of Americans, just days after the Central Intelligence Agency stopped al Qaeda from detonating a state-of-the-art underwear bomb aboard a U.S.-bound aircraft. [Vote: Did Rand Paul Overreact to TSA’s Request for a Pat Down?]

"We are engaged in an ongoing battle to stay one step ahead of the terrorists," says Maryland Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "Just because Osama bin Laden has been killed and al Qaeda's leadership has been degraded does not mean we can rest."

Since its inception, TSA has faced heightened criticism for buying equipment before it is properly vetted for use.

Between 2004 and 2006, TSA dished out $30 million for Explosive Trace Detection Portals, or "puffers," but installed less than half of them in airports after discovering serious design flaws. The TSA then paid to keep some of the devices in storage until 2010.

After the so-called "Christmas Day Bomber" was thwarted—and before the device was adequately tested—the TSA spent $122 million on controversial Advanced Imaging Technology Devices or full body scanning machines.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has said it is unclear whether the whole body scanning devices could have ever detected the weapon the underwear bomber used.

Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz offered a simpler solution to the TSA's seeming obsession with unproven technology: bomb-sniffing dogs. [See a slide show of 6 vulnerable terrorist targets.]

"It's what the Israelis do, it's what the Pentagon does, it's what the White House does, it's what we do in the United States Congress," Chaffetz says. "Only the TSA decides that whole body imaging machines are better, and then we stick hundreds of millions of dollars in the warehouse. People are going to die if we continue to make these asinine decisions."