WASHINGTON (ABC7) — Today on Capitol Hill, dog handlers and their canine partners showed lawmakers what they do everyday on the job, which included detecting guns and explosives throughout the nation's airports.
The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing focused on DHS canine programs. Officials say passenger-screening canines receive additional training to detect explosives carried by a person, whereas conventional canines detect explosives on stationary objects like baggage.
"Passenger-screening canine teams are critical to TSA's risk-based security efforts and are deployed to operate during peak periods at 40 of our nation's largest airports," said Kimberly Hutchinson, TSA's Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Training and Development.
But Hutchinson says those dogs require an additional ten weeks of training to do that job.
"When TSA conducted its initial effectiveness assessment of these specialized passenger screening canines, it also carried out one of the search exercises with three conventional canine teams, so those are the teams that don't receive the specialized training," said Jennifer Grover the Director of Homeland Security and Justice for GAO. "The results suggested the conventional canines might be as effective as the canines with the PSC training at detecting explosives on people under some scenarios."
While she says TSA made significant improvements to its canine program after GAO released its 2013 report, it notes GAO recommended TSA conduct more tests to see if the costs are warranted for the additional training.
"TSA officials told us they didn't plan to carry out the assessment, citing concerns about the temperament of some of the conventionally trained canines and the potential liability risk to the agency if it operated conventional canines in a passenger screening environment for which they had not been trained," said Director Grover.
TSA officials said in a written response, "We continuously evaluate our canines to determine which ones may be suitable to perform passenger screening. For those suitable, we have and will continue providing additional training to certify in passenger screening procedures."