OIG evaluates airport security
By Jordanna Smida, Associate Editor
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Department of Transportation, is responsible for conducting independent evaluations of FAA programs at U.S. airports. In its recent series of security audits the OIG discovered improvements were needed in access control with respect to background investigations, employee ID badges, and training.
According to Alexis Stefani, OIG's assistant inspector general for auditing, any airport employee having access to a secured area is required to have a background check for violations of certain crimes.
The 1990 Aviation Security Improvement Act directed FAA to require employment investigations and FBI criminal checks for individuals who would have access to secure airport areas. The Act included a list of 24 disqualifying crimes. In 1992, FAA proposed a required ciminal check for all individuals with unescorted access privelages and to expand the list of disqualifying crimes, explains Stefani. In 1995, FAA expanded the list to 25 to include felony arson.
In her report to Congress, Stefani states that, "Our recent review of the industry's compliance with FAA's background investigation requirements at six U.S. airports found that the requirements were ineffective." The current process for the checks, the OIG discovered, is labor intensive, and at times "impossible."
"It's very paper intensive and you're really not learning that much about the individual from this," she states.
The OIG reviewed employee files at the six airports it investigated. For 35 percent of the employee files reviewed it found no evidence of a background check. It also discovered employee information was no longer on file or couldn't be verified and nine percent of the active airport IDs were in the possession of employees who were terminated or no longer needed access to secured areas (See chart 1).
In 1992, when the recommendations for background checks were made, processing fingerprints and conducting the criminal check took up to 90 days, Stefani says. "Today, it would be done with an automated print system ... we can get these checks much quicker," she states. "We're recommending that they [airports] go to 100 percent fingerprinting." Though criminal background checks may resolve some of the issues, it may not be enough to deter employees from breaching security.
OIG had also found that employees were very willing to give up their ID badge for money. "Potentially you have a trigger for a credit check. A person may not have a criminal record, but maybe they're just in a financial bind," she states. "You've got to consider them as part of the whole package."
Part of the problem with the the background check is the list of 25 crimes, says Stefani. Much to the OIG's surprise, drugs are not included on the list. "They [crimes on the list] are really based on things such as concepts behind hijacking, terrorism, and espionage," she states. This carries a risk, she says, because the list doesn't consider crimes such as drugs, that can lead to problems. She found that employees are willing to place items on aircraft for money or allow someone else access to the aircraft. A new bill has been sent to Congress that calls for expanding the list of crimes for background checks.
Access Control; Foreign Workers
Until further decisions are made by Congress or FAA regarding access control, Stefani says there are certain things airports can do to ensure access control security.
Many of the airports Stefani assessed relied on tenants to conduct employee certifications and checks. "That's where we saw the biggest breakdown," she states. She found that airports which conducted the certifications themselves had better results.
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