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FED CIO Says CAPPS II Funding At Risk

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) CAPPS II program, the controversial passenger screening system that has come under heavy criticism from both Congress and consumer groups, is in danger of not meeting the government's own standards for funding.

Mark Foreman, associate director for information technology and e-government for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told the House Subcommittee on Technology Tuesday CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System) is one of many programs that is "at risk" for not making a "business case" for funding.

In early March, the Bush administration revealed the TSA plans to scan government and commercial databases for potential terrorist threats when a passenger makes flight reservations.

Under the program, airline passengers will be required to provide their full name plus address, phone number and date of birth. Once that information is entered, the airline computer reservation system will automatically link to the TSA for a computer background check on the traveler that can include a credit, banking history and criminal background check.

Calling CAPPS II another "watch list," Foreman said the OMB wants a "risk-based approach" to a passenger screening program. He said the TSA has yet to develop "clear documentation" that CAPPS II will improve productivity.

"If at the end of the day it does not lower risk, then I have to say that it is not a good investment," Foreman said.

Foreman also said OMB has a "huge spotlight" on a $12.8 million contract TSA recently awarded to Lockheed Martin for developing the CAPPS II technology infrastructure. IBM is developing the front-end architecture while Delta Airlines began testing the program this month at three undisclosed airports. TSA will conduct the actual risk assessments.

Since the CAPPS II program was announced, Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.), who earlier this year spearheaded an effort to cut off funding for the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness data mining program, won a Senate Commerce Committee approval for an amendment to require Congressional oversight for the program.

Concerned that the CAPPS II program could violate the privacy and civil liberties of the flying public, Wyden introduced the amendment to require the Secretary of Homeland Security to report to Congress within 90 days on what impact the CAPPS II program will have on the privacy and civil liberties of United States citizens, including how individual information will be used and what safeguards will be implemented to protect the public's rights.

Consumer and privacy groups have also weighed in against CAPPS II. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) group is asking the Department of Transportation, the parent agency of the TSA, to withdraw plans exempting the controversial Aviation Security Screening Records (ASSR) passenger database from Privacy Act procedural safeguards. According to the EFF, the ASSR System appears to be a portion of CAPPS II.

A coalition of activist groups on Tuesday urged the House Committee on Government Reform to stop development of CAPPS II unless "it can be shown to be both effective and consistent with privacy and due process principles."