The Transportation Security Administration calls it an extra layer of security - a new program that randomly inspects airport workers who have direct access to secure areas, including the airfield itself.
Until recently, the federal agency has said little publicly about the "Aviation Direct Access Screening Program."
The initiative went into effect late last year at some airports, including the Albuquerque International Sunport. It has been rolled out at 100 or so locations, nationwide.
Eventually, it will be in place at some 450 airports.
"The randomness of this is really the key because a person doesn't know at any point whether or not they're going to encounter a checkpoint," said Maggie Santiago, acting federal security director at the Albuquerque airport.
Airport employees, airline workers, contractors, vendors and even TSA staff with secure-area access are subject to the random inspections. Many of them don't have to pass through the same main security checkpoint that airline passengers go through.
City airport officials say the program has had no significant impact on operations.
The workers being screened seem to have taken it in stride.
"It can be an inconvenience, but it's just part of where we work and the pro- cedures that we have to go through," Lynn Parras, a senior office assistant with the city Aviation Department, said after encountering one such checkpoint. "If it's something that I absolutely do not want to do, then I should probably find another job.
"It's just making sure that everybody is safe, because you never know."
According to the TSA, the program deploys transportation security officers "anytime, anywhere" to inspect workers and their property.
That means establishing random checkpoints at doors leading to secure areas, having TSA staff check for proper credentials - badges and photo IDs - and searching people for prohibited items that aren't necessary for their work.
On Thursday, for example, as many as three checkpoints were set up at the Sunport.
Lighters, pocket knives and other items have been seized in such inspections since late October in Albuquerque. But the TSA obviously has its eyes open for devices that pose a bigger threat: explosives, guns or other weapons.
"This is just another thing that we've put into place to specifically address that 'insider threat,' '' said Andrea McCauley, a TSA spokeswoman based in Dallas.
Airport workers who enter secure areas have undergone background checks, and a card-reader security system is used to allow admission. The new program is meant to augment those existing safety checks, Santiago said.
It has resulted in nothing more than the occasional minor delay, said Sunport spokesman Daniel Jiron.
Jeffrey Dominguez, a Southwest Airlines ramp employee, encountered a checkpoint at the "D" Gate on Thursday. He's used to them by now.
"I think it's OK because some employees tend to lose their IDs," he said, adding that the lost badges might not be reported immediately. "It has to be done for security reasons. I have no problems with it. Better to be safe than sorry."
City Aviation Officials
Jim Hinde has assumed the role of acting director of the city Aviation Department, replacing Mike Rice, who officially retired last week. A permanent director has not been named. Hinde had been a business-development manager with the department.
Maggie Santiago is the TSA's acting federal security director for the Albuquerque airport. Melvin Carraway, the previous director, went to Washington, D.C., after being named the agency's general manager for field operations.
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