Since the October 1 changes, checks have gone up to taking some 72 hours. “That doesn’t seem like a lot, but you kind of get spoiled by the performance and track record that we’ve had in the four to five years prior,” Morris says. The Clearinghouse is working with TSA to try to “drive down” the amount of time the checks are taking now.
Byer says the amount of time the checks take is a big concern for NATA members — particularly for companies’ employees that need badges at multiple airports. But it’s one area in which change is not necessarily on the horizon, though improvements would be feasible.
“I don’t think you’re going to see anything substantial at this point,” Byer says. Still, he maintains that it would be more convenient for companies if they didn’t have to pay for the same background check multiple times.
Cammaroto says such decisions are left up to the airports. “Some of that can be obviated. In many cases, the airports choose not to run the risk of there being a mistake upstream, or that perhaps someone’s not being forthright with them in terms of a check being done. Some airports will choose instead to do the checks themselves, even though they may have done them elsewhere. We don’t want to take that latitude away from airport operators.”
Comments Morris at AAAE, “We have solicited TSA input, and basically approval of this transferability concept; where somebody who is cleared at one facility shows up on the Clearinghouse as having been cleared, allowing another facility to decide how much more of check they want to do, or whether they want to go ahead and take the green light that’s already up there and make that good enough to issue their badge. I think the important thing there is, we’ve got a process and solution in place right now that will provide these airports a lot of options.”
Chambers notes that ACI-NA is working with TSA to improve some immediate security concerns. He says TSA recently spot-checked certain airports to compare the airport’s list of active badges against the vendors and concessionaires list of employees.
TSA also sent out a letter to airport operators dated December 17, 2007 asking operators to meet with employers of businesses on-site and stress the importance of vigilance in keeping track of and returning identification media. The letter also asks operators to encourage use of E-verify, a free online program that verifies employment eligibility, particularly to improve the review process of the I-9 form.
“There’s no requirement that [I-9 documents] actually be verified,” says Chambers at ACI-NA. “So what we’re looking at is encouraging people to check the social security number using this system.”
Chambers says ACI-NA, working with TSA, AAAE and other industry stakeholders, “is also looking at coming up with best practices. We’ll go out and survey airports and come up with some ideas for best practices as it relates to auditing and controlling and providing badges for employees.”
Chambers says TSA also vets employees daily against a set of databases, to check for any employees who may have run into problems since their initial background check.
The ‘100 Precent’ Test
A pilot program, initially to take place at seven airports, is now in the works for 100 percent employee screening, thanks to a mandate from Congress. “What that study will help us to determine is, in part, what is the viability of 100 percent employee screening?” says TSA’s Cammaroto. “If everybody that had to come on to the airport to work has to go through some sort of physical inspection a la the passengers checkpoint, what will that do for us in terms of real security versus potentially a deterrent value, versus potentially a semblance of security but perhaps not real security?”
There appears to be an industry consensus that the idea of employee screening similar to passenger screening is preposterous.
“When you’re coming to work on the ramp of an airport, there are many items on the ramp of the airport that had you had those items at the passenger checkpoint, they’d have been taken from you,” Cammaroto says, “because some of those items are necessary to run the system itself.”
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