Bill Calls for More Rigorous Screening of Airport Workers

Legislation has been introduced that aims to bolster screening procedures for airport workers with unescorted access to secure areas.

The bill (HR 5982), introduced May 7, would require the Transportation Security Administration to develop a plan for requiring such workers to have biometric identification credentials for routine admission beyond security checkpoints.

TSA, airport operators and other stakeholders would study and report back to Congress on best practices for using biometrics to secure airports. Bill sponsor and House Homeland Chairman Bennie Thompson urged the use of existing biometric systems, such as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) or the General Services Administration's Smart Card.

"This bill . . . ensures there is a comprehensive plan in place before airports begin using biometric identification for its workers," said Thompson, D-Miss., in a release. "This is not about reinventing the wheel or putting a stop to any good work at TSA — it is about helping us build upon smart, efficient, and effective airport security measures needed to secure Americans and protect a vital industry to our economy and resiliency."

TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said, "While we cannot speculate on pending legislation, just this week we began employee screening [of] pilots, including biometric components. We are very interested in evaluating these pilots and determining the most appropriate courses of action to increase security while addressing the insider threat."

Since October 2007, TSA has required that new airport employees pass a background check and security threat assessment before gaining secure airport identification cards. Thompson praised the screening process but said that without biometric information, identity cannot be established.

In November 2007, 23 people at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport were arrested who had used false airport security badges to bypass airport screeners.

In December the House passed a bill (HR 1413) by voice vote to create a pilot program requiring physical screening for all workers with access to secure and sterile areas at five airports. It would also require TSA to test other forms of screening, including biometrics, behavior recognition and canine teams.

That bill had been sponsored Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., also a member of the House Homeland Security panel, on the heels of a scandal involving two baggage screeners at Orlando International Airport who were able to smuggle more than a dozen guns onto a commercial flight bound for Puerto Rico.

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