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Subcommittee clears bill to step up screening of airport workers

Supporter cites four recent cases at different airports in which individuals misused their status as authorized employees.

Alarmed by a number of recent incidents of criminal activity by airport workers, a House Homeland Security subcommittee Tuesday unanimously approved legislation ordering the Transportation Security Administration to conduct tests of different ways to require security screening for employees entering secure areas of airports.

The Homeland Security Transportation, Security and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee approved the bill (H.R. 1413) on a voice vote at the urging of Chairwoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, and Ranking Member Daniel Lungren, R-Calif. The panel also approved unanimously an amendment offered by Jackson-Lee to broaden the scope of the pilot program.

The original measure was co-authored by Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., a member of the full committee, and Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., a subcommittee member.

"This legislation seeks to ensure that people who have access to secure areas are trustworthy individuals who are not a threat to the traveling public," Jackson-Lee said. She cited four recent cases at different airports in which individuals used their status as authorized employees to get guns, drugs and other illegal objects onto airliners or cargo jets.

Those activities could just as easily have been terrorist acts, the chairwoman said.

Lungren noted that despite all the efforts made since Sept. 11, 2001, to improve air travel security, "this still remains one of our foremost security concerns."

The Aviation Transportation Security Act of 2002 called for security screening of everyone going into secure parts of airports, but TSA has never acted on it.

The bill as introduced called for pilot programs at five airports, including at least two large hub facilities, required the same screening standards as apply to airline passengers, with at least two airports using private security workers rather than TSA screeners. It also required vulnerability assessments of the airports used in the tests and a report to Congress within 90 days of implementation of the program.

Jackson-Lee's amendment expanded the program to seven airports but allowed only one to use private security screeners and they had to be in place before the test began. It also authorized TSA to use alternative methods of screening the workers, including biometrics, behavior recognition procedures, trained dogs, video camera and increased vetting and training of workers allowed into secured areas.

The amendment also increases the scope of the assessment of security procedures required at each airport chosen for the pilot programs to include any increase in congestion, the number of additional screeners required and the rate at which prohibited items are discovered on the employees being screened.

Jackson-Lee said there may be additional changes to the bill before it goes before the full committee.