ITEMS NOT DEEMED SERIOUS RISK
By TED JACKOVICS
The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA - Employees of the federal agency charged with airport security and screening what gets on commercial airliners reported as missing or stolen 3,700 uniforms and security badges in the past five years, records show.
However, the Transportation Security Administration says lost uniforms and badges don't represent a significant threat because codes to access secure areas can be deactivated and security officers work in teams and thus would spot imposters.
Still, the lost items have raised eyebrows in Washington, in particular with a congressman on the Homeland Security Committee. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he is seeking a solution to the issue.
The Transportation Security Administration reported at least 1,868 uniforms and 1,806 identification cards lost or stolen, records show. That includes 63 uniforms and nine ID cards issued to TSA employees at Tampa International Airport.
Los Angeles International Airport reported 789 missing items - the most nationwide - and Miami International Airport reported 103 missing items, the most among Florida airports.
"Since the inception of TSA in 2002, less than 1 percent of uniforms and 1.5 percent of TSA ID cards have been lost," said TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz in Miami.
"The TSA does not see any threats or trends associated with lost ID cards or uniforms."
The TSA data on the missing items were first released publicly last year after a Freedom of Information request by WOAI-TV in San Antonio. The data covered the period when the TSA was established after the Sept. 11 attacks through May 30.
Smith began in May to inquire about lost TSA items and continues to seek a solution to the issue, said his press secretary, Bess Frigola.
In a Dec. 11 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Smith proposed using biometric identifiers instead of badges and imposing a national standard of sanctions on TSA employees who cannot account for their badges or uniforms.
He did not suggest a specific type of biometric identifiers, which include scanning the retina or iris of a person's eye among other measurements.
Numerous current TSA employees have lost uniforms and IDs, officials said.
TSA employees must report missing or stolen ID cards or uniforms to management and, if appropriate, alert local law enforcement, Koshetz said.
TSA uniforms are nondescript: blue trousers and a white shirt. The uniforms are not sufficient to provide access to secure areas, nor do the ID cards provide access there, Koshetz said.
Those who require access to secure areas, such as aircraft and checked baggage areas, are issued Secure Identification Display Area badges by each airport, TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley said in a letter to Smith in August.
When secure badge access is not required, TSA employees receive a different airport-issued identification badge for access to high-security areas, Hawley said.
Security officers are screened at the beginning of each shift and again if they exit and return to the secure area, Koshetz said.
Even if an unauthorized person were to obtain TSA and Department of Homeland Security badges and cards, any card-activated access through security gates or doors would be electronically decommissioned - as long as an employee reported missing credentials, officials said.
In addition, TSA employees work in teams and would be likely to recognize and question a strange face in a TSA uniform, they said.
"We are trained in the business of security, and that begins with familiarizing ourselves with our fellow workers and who has a right to be in a given area at any given moment," Koshetz said.
TSA has employed a staff of 450 to 500 employees at Tampa International Airport since the agency was established after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Transportation security officers are paid $23,600 to $35,400. Supervisors are paid $36,400 to $56,400.
Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at (813) 259-7817 or .
Photo credit: Associated Press file photo
Photo: TSA safety officer Kim Ferrie rejects a traveler's carry-on liquid in the Milwaukee airport. Uniforms are not sufficient to provide access to secure areas, and badges can be deactivated.
Copyright © 2007, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail