Alarming lapses in airport security still occur, Transportation IG says

"Alarming lapses" of security are still occurring at the nation's airports despite new security measures introduced by the Bush administration, Kenneth Mead, the inspector general of the Transportation Department, told a Senate Committee Wednesday. While the Bush measures have tightened aviation security, they have not resolved persistent weaknesses that leave airports vulnerable to attack, Mead said. For example, despite a Federal Aviation Administration rule requiring airlines to use machines to screen checked baggage for explosives, Mead said that less than 10 percent of checked baggage is actually being screened for bombs. "I think we've been woeful on the use of explosive detection machines," Mead told a joint hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, Restructuring, and the District of Columbia. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the chairman of the Committee, was visibly surprised by the 10 percent figure. "That's really stunning. I didn't realize it was that low," Leiberman said. Other FAA reforms have led to marginal security improvements, according to Mead. The FAA is conducting criminal background checks on new airport employees at the nation's largest airports, but checks have not been performed on current employees or any workers at small airports. Mead praised the "zero tolerance" policy for potential security breaches at airports that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced in late October. Under the policy, airport officials must empty airport concourses and re-screen passengers if a possible security breach is detected. Since Nov. 3, 90 such incidents have occurred, Mead told the panel. Mead did not take a position on whether baggage screeners should be federal employees, but he did recommend that a new airport security office be placed in the Transportation Department, as would be the case under a House-passed bill. FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, who testified for the Bush administration, said her agency is developing new performance measures for airport security that could be transferred to a new airport security office. Performance standards must be a part of the new airport security system, both Mead and Garvey said. "This is an opportunity for a real world application of the [1993] Government Performance and Results Act," said Mead. Garvey expressed the administration's preference for allowing contract employees to screen bags, a view that prompted scorn from some senators. "Continuing to allow the American people to rely on these contract people is like relying on the Boston strangler to massage your neck," said Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga. At present, airlines contract out security to private companies, which must follow FAA rules. A Senate-passed bill would put baggage screeners at the nation's largest airports on the federal payroll, while the House-passed bill would allow the government to use contractors to provide security. Under the Bush plan, airlines would no longer be involved in airport security, a point Garvey made to Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. "Contractors would be working for the government," she said. No matter who screens baggage, many security issues will take years to resolve, Mead and Garvey said. Explosive detection machines will not be available in all of the nation's airports until 2004 at the earliest. But Mead said existing machines could quadruple the number of bags screened if they were used properly. "We found that there were not always enough trained operators to effectively staff checked baggage screening operations," he said. On Nov. 12, Mead's staff witnessed one screener fall asleep in the midst of a 20-hour shift. Mead urged the FAA to issue a rule requiring security workers using the machines to screen at least 125 bags an hour.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.