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Canine teams that screen airline passengers draw concern

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 9:16 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Federal auditors are raising questions about Transportation Security Administration plans to deploy bomb-sniffing dogs to screen passengers — in addition to cargo — in airports.

The TSA intends to field 120 canine teams at airports nationwide to sniff for explosives on passengers by the end of the year.

The TSA has tested canine teams in closed areas of airports in Miami in June and in Oklahoma City in August. Another test is scheduled in February at Washington's Dulles airport. In recent months, TSA has experimented with screening passengers at airports in Tampa and Indianapolis.

But a Government Accountability Office report released on Thursday said that canine teams repeatedly fail to meet a requirement to get four hours of training every four weeks. And GAO says that after short-notice tests of the teams, TSA doesn't keep track of where dogs were most effective or with which types of explosives.

“TSA has not deployed passenger-screening canines — trained to identify and track explosives odor on a person — consistent with its risk-based approach, and did not determine (the canine) teams' effectiveness prior to deployment,” the GAO concludes.

The TSA said that beyond its ongoing testing and evaluation, it will update its website that monitors the program in March to better track the passenger screening by dogs in the same way it does for cargo.

“TSA has developed a risk-based deployment methodology that it continues to evaluate and modify, as needed,” Jim Crumpacker, director of the agency's liaison with GAO, wrote in reply to the report. “TSA will deploy future teams to the highest-priority airports as identified by both operational and risk-based analysis.”

The TSA effort is called the National Canine Program, which began in 1972 after a bomb threat on a plane. The program now has 762 teams of dogs and officers. The program is growing: Funding doubled to $101 million in the past three years, and there are plans for 921 teams.

Dogs began screening aviation cargo in January 2008, and there are now 120 TSA teams doing that. Hundreds of other dogs work with local law-enforcement officers patrolling airport, bus and ferry terminals. By the end of the year, TSA plans to have 120 teams of its inspectors paired with dogs to search for explosives on passengers in airports.

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