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TSA Hid Extra Screening Gear, Evaded Probe, U.S. Says

May 9 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration bought $184 million in screening equipment it stored in warehouses and tried to stop Congress from learning how many machines were there, a congressional report found.

The TSA may have obstructed congressional oversight by delaying an on-site visit and moving equipment prior to investigators’ arrival, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who heads the House oversight committee, said today at a hearing.

“I want you to understand, Congress was misled,” Issa told David Nicholson, TSA’s assistant administrator for finance and administration. “They were given documents with figures that were deliberately lower.”

Congress, through hearings, is questioning whether the TSA’s management is too focused on screening every airline passenger the same way, instead of developing intelligence to catch terrorists. Representative John Mica, the House transportation chairman, wants the agency to turn over the airport-screening process to private companies.

“In the last 48 hours, we’ve seen terrorists target aviation, because they know they can destroy our economy,” Mica said. “The question is how is our primary agency responsible for getting the latest technology is spending taxpayers’ money.”

Equipment Moved

According to the report by Issa’s and Mica’a committees, congressional staff attempting to learn about equipment purchases and storage faced deliberate delays while the TSA attempted to hide unused machines.

When investigators asked on a site visit why so few workers were at the Texas storage site at 3 p.m., a manager said he had sent them home because they had been working since 6 a.m. to remove 1,300 pieces of equipment, the report found.

The equipment was moved out according to a schedule worked out well in advance, Nicholson testified today. The agency didn’t provide inaccurate or incomplete information, he said.

TSA purchases technology in bulk to reduce the costs for each unit, the agency said in a fact sheet issued in response to today’s report. It recently purchased 2,000 explosive trace detection machines at a cost savings of $3.5 million, it said.

Deploying Machines

The agency has deployed about 700 advanced-imaging machines in U.S. airports, with 100 more due by Sept. 30 and another 200 by the end of the year, it said. There are two machines in storage.

“TSA must have equipment on hand ready to deploy to ensure that essential technology is consistently available,” the agency said. “This includes spare parts to repair broken technology.”

The TSA reduced the annual costs of running its three Texas warehouses to $3.5 million in 2011 from $7.6 million a year in 2009, Nicholson said in prepared remarks. Almost 80 percent of screening equipment the agency purchases is stored for less than a year, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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