Improving Security

Nov. 8, 2000

Improving Security

Hutchison bill emphasizes training; streamlines background checks

By Bonnie Wilson

November 2000

The bill addresses criminal history records checks, crimes that bar employment in security positions at airports, training of personnel, secured area access control, and utilization of explosive detection equipment. The bill now resides with the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Of primary importance to all parties in the aviation industry is the section on criminal history records checks. Under the current regulations, applicants for unescorted access to secure areas of an airport must undergo an employment history records check. This check requires potential employees to submit records of their employment for the ten years prior to application for unescorted access. If these records are incomplete, then and only then is the applicant requested to supply a full set of fingerprints to be submitted to the FBI to ensure that they have not committed one of the ?disqualifying crimes? enumerated in the regulation.

The FAA, airports, and the FBI are currently testing a method by which fingerprints can be transmitted to the FBI through electronic means. This electronic transmission would significantly reduce the delay associated with these checks. Senator Hutchison?s bill calls for an expansion of the current test to an ?aviation industry-wide program? that will require a fingerprint check of all applicants for unescorted access within two years of the enactment of the Act, not just those applicants with incomplete records.

At first glance this may seem to be an onerous burden to place on employers, but viewed in the context of the entire background investigation procedure required today, it would actually significantly reduce cost and delays. Imagine: no more paperwork collection on applicants; no more verification of all the positions the applicant has held in the past ten years; no more annual audits of the ten years of paperwork collected on applicants. Instead, one simple test. Submit your prints; if you pass the test, you?re hired!

While the test is simpler to implement, the Act does raise the bar by expanding the list of disqualifying crimes. Recent criminal investigations and audits by the General Accounting Office and the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General have shown that the current list of ?disqualifying crimes? doesn?t go far enough to protect aviation interests. Employees with access to aircraft have been willing to place sealed packages on airplanes because they ?believe? or have been told the package is contraband other than explosives. What if they?re wrong?

The Act expands the current list of disqualifying crimes to include: felony involving threat; willful destruction of property; importation or manufacture of a controlled substance; burglary, theft, dishonesty, fraud, or misrepresentation; possession or distribution of stolen property; aggravated assault; and bribery. Further, it includes ?illegal possession of a controlled substance punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of more than one year, or any other crime classified as a felony that the Administrator determines indicates a propensity for placing contraband aboard an aircraft in return for money.?

To ensure that the caliber of employees providing security for the aviation system is raised, the bill goes on to dictate training standards for those who provide the first line of defense: security screeners. First, the Act instructs FAA to finalize the regulation on certification of screening companies by May 31, 2001. This regulation will set the standards for those companies that wish to be eligible to provide aviation security screening.

In addition to a final rule, the Administrator is to prescribe minimum training standards for security screeners that include at least 40 hours of classroom or the equivalent that will allow an individual to show an acceptable level of proficiency. This must be followed by 40 hours of on-the-job training and an on-the-job training examination.

Ideally, this system will allow security companies to train individuals in the manner most appropriate for the job, but at the same time ensure that a proficiency standard is met system-wide. It is believed that instituting proficiency standards will raise the value of employees with the skills necessary to pass these tests, increase employee retention trends, and improve the screening process overall.

Acknowledging that all the technology in the world is irrelevant if the humans interfacing with it override the control mechanisms, the section of the Act relating to improved access control measures focuses on individual compliance. The Act calls on FAA to publish a list of sanctions for use ?as guidelines in the discipline of employees for infractions of access control requirements?. To ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, airports and air carriers will also be required to implement comprehensive and recurrent training programs that teach employees their role in providing security. Those who get it right are to be rewarded; those who don?t are to be subject to sanctions.

Airports, air carriers, and screening companies will be required to include a section in their security programs that addresses sanctions for individual non-compliance. Sanctions are to range from remedial training on rules and procedures to suspension from security duties, to suspension from all duties without pay, to finally termination of employment.

Idle hands and idle explosive detection systems (EDS) are addressed as well. The Computer Assisted Passen-ger Pre-screening System (CAPPS) selects passengers whose baggage is to be subject to EDS screening prior to boarding. Passengers selected either meet the criteria established under CAPPS or are randomly selected. The FAA, IG, and GAO have noted that the EDS equipment supplied to the air carriers may be ?underutilized? in certain locations as CAPPS does not generate enough selectees to keep the machines in constant use. The Act seeks to improve utilization figures by imposing an additional ?manual pro-cess? to add an additional random selection to the CAPPS random selection.

Theoretically, this would improve the deterrent of EDS screening, increase the proficiency of the EDS operator, and increase the overall number of bags screened prior to loading. Manual random selection raises its own concerns, as it is essential that persons who are selected for EDS screening are not singled out in a prejudicial manner.