"(The Transportation Security Agency) is not properly managing the maintenance of its airport screening equipment," according to an inspector general report.
The equipment is used at about 450 airports nationwide to detect everything from explosives, to guns and other weapons passengers or terrorists may try to get past security checkpoints.
Each day, TSA screens about 1.8 million airline passengers and about 1.2 million checked bags for anything that could bring down an airplane.
The audit states TSA's lack of adequate oversight of maintenance for the equipment means the agency "cannot be assured that routine preventative maintenance is performed or that the equipment is repaired and ready for operational use."
The report also raises concern that poorly maintained airport screening equipment could mean "the safety of airline passengers and aircraft could be jeopardized."
TSA has four maintenance contracts worth about $1.2 billion. The contracted maintenance companies are supposed to perform maintenance checks to fix and prevent machine breakdowns. The machines at security checkpoints include explosive trace detection machines, advanced imaging technology machines, bottled liquid scanners, x-ray machines and walk through metal detectors.
The audit found TSA has made the following mistakes in managing its screening equipment:
- TSA has not given airports guidance on how to track and monitor preventative maintenance;
- TSA relies on self reported data from maintenance contractors and does not validate the data to confirm the necessary maintenance has been completed;
- TSA cannot be certain maintenance has been completed because the contractor provided data report is incomplete;
- There is also no TSA enforced penalty the agency can levy against the contractor if it does not perform preventative maintenance as required.
The inspector general recommended the agency develop a way to verify maintenance contractors have done the work they are hired to do and ensure a complete and accurate maintenance log is kept.
The auditors also called for penalties for non-compliance if TSA has determines the contracted maintenance company has not performed its contractual requirements.
TSA said in a statement it "recognizes the importance of identifying new methods for improving oversight of equipment contracts and maintenance."
"As the agency charged with protecting nearly 1.8 million passengers who travel through U.S. airports every day, we take seriously the responsibility to ensure the operational use of screening equipment," said the statement.
TSA said it agrees with the inspector general recommendations and in September began working on the necessary changes and anticipates they will be completed by the end of this year.