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Nellie Doneva/The Abilene Reporter-News/AP

Shelf life and death

Technology | TSA spends millions on screening devices, and then puts them in long-term storage

Issue: "Effective Compassion," June 16, 2012

The Transportation Security Administration is storing millions of dollars' worth of unused airport screening technology at three warehouses in Dallas, revealed a May report from transportation and oversight committees in the U.S. House. Congressional staff visited the TSA's 700,000-square-foot storage complex in February to find new X-ray machines, metal detectors, bottle liquid scanners, explosives detectors, and other equipment languishing in plastic wrap and wooden crates for a year or more.

All but a few of 472 screening machines for carry-on luggage, together valued at $71 million, had sat in the warehouses for nine months or more. The report estimated that equipment worth $184 million had depreciated by $23 million during the time it spent idle.

Defending the storage of 1,462 "explosive trace detectors" (cost: $30,000 each), TSA management told Congress: "We purchased more than we needed in order to get a discount." As of February, 492 of the devices had been gathering dust for more than a year.

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Most serious of all, the congressional report accused the TSA of providing a false inventory report, then attempting to dispose of 1,300 pieces of unreported inventory before congressional staff arrived on Feb. 15. The staffers say many warehouse workers had gone home by midafternoon that day: They'd arrived early, at 6 a.m., to clear out unreported equipment.

Testifying to Congress last month, TSA assistant administrator David Nicholson said the equipment disposal on Feb. 15 was a coincidence, not a cover-up. The Dallas storage facility costs taxpayers $3.5 million a year to operate, but Nicholson argued it helps the TSA quickly deploy screening equipment to airports when sudden needs arise.

Little white tweaks

Handout photo

A camera app included in an upcoming mobile phone operating system, BlackBerry 10, could make it easier than ever to take the perfect group shot-or blur the line between truth and fiction. When a user takes a picture, the app records several images in succession. Then, the user can select a subject's face, "rewind" it to how it appeared a second or two before, and save that expression in the final image.

This time-shifting trick will allow users to eliminate an ill-timed blink, or freeze everyone in an image at the moment their smile was brightest. It could also allow the photographer to redirect a subject's gaze-perhaps toward another person-or make an expression less flattering. -Daniel James Devine

Stimulus overkill

Cisco

A 2010 federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed internet in West Virginia has become yet another example of government waste. State officials used $24 million to buy high-end internet routers, designed for universities and large corporations, for $22,600 apiece and are installing them in small schools and libraries. Some contain only a single computer terminal. Sales representatives for Cisco, the manufacturer of the 3945 series routers, told The Charleston Gazette last month that a $487 router model could have done the job. A state official defended the expensive routers by saying they'd be less likely to become obsolete quickly and would provide "equal opportunity" for schoolchildren. But now the state has hired an outside consultant to advise it on spending the remainder of its $126 million broadband grant. -Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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