Jim Kouri
May 17, 2012
Newark Airport security deficiencies known by Obama, congress?
By Jim Kouri

The discovery on Monday that an illegal alien — Nigerian national Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole — held the position of security supervisor at an airport from which United Flight 93 departed on September 11, 2001 and crashed in a Pennsylvania field when terrorists commandeered the plane, has created a firestorm throughout the nation.

One fact that needs to be addressed immediately is that background checks on airport workers and other employees assigned to sensitive areas are not as indepth as originally believed, according to several security experts who spoke with this writer.

Sadly, since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Government Accountability Office has analyzed airport security deficiencies in a number of reports. The results of these studies — which are routinely distributed to the executive and legislative branches were given scant attention by the Obama White House, the U.S. Congress, and the news media.

Within the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration manages several credentialing programs, which include background checking (known as Security Threat Assessments) and issuing credentials to transportation workers requiring unescorted access to the nation's transportation facilities.

The number of TSA programs and their potential for redundancy with state and local government programs has raised questions about these credentialing programs. GAO examined TSA credentialing programs to identify the roles and responsibilities of federal and nonfederal government entities related to TSA's transportation worker credentialing programs and how they compare; and any key challenges TSA faced in ensuring the effectiveness of its credentialing programs.

Besides the background investigation process for airport security personnel, nonfederal government entities have varying roles and responsibilities under three TSA transportation worker credentialing programs that were reviewed — the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program (TWIC) for maritime workers; the Hazardous Materials Endorsement program (HME) for truckers seeking a commercial drivers license endorsement to carry hazardous materials; and the Aviation Workers program for airport workers.

Under the Aviation Workers program, TSA and airports share responsibility for the vetting process for airport workers, with airports responsible for enrolling applicants, adjudicating criminal history results provided by the TSA, and issuing and revoking airport badges.

During its most recent analysis in December 2011, GAO analysts discovered limitations in the vetting process and criminal background checks:

First, in general, the level of access that TSA credentialing programs receive to Department of Justice (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history records is the level of access accorded for noncriminal justice purposes (e.g., equal to that of a private company doing an employment check on a new applicant, according to TSA) which limits TSA in accessing certain criminal history data related to charges and convictions. While TSA is seeking criminal justice type access to FBI systems, the FBI reports that it is legally unable to provide this access. The FBI and TSA are collaborating on options, but have not identified the extent to which a potential security risk may exist under the current process, and the costs and benefits of pursuing alternatives to provide additional access, according to the analysts.

Second, TSA officials reported the agency was not reviewing some state-provided criminal history for Hazmat applicants because TSA did not have a mechanism to efficiently capture the data in its case system. Identifying a solution may help TSA better identify HME applicants posing security threats.

Third, the TSA Adjudication Center relies on contractors for adjudicating applicant cases, and contractor turnover has affected the agency's ability to meet its growing workload. Developing a workforce staffing plan that considers the costs and benefits of using contractors will help ensure that TSA meets its growing credentialing workload.

The GAO recommended that TSA and the FBI conduct a joint risk assessment of TSA's access to criminal history records; TSA assess costs and benefits of using state-provided criminal history information; and TSA develop a workforce staffing plan to address its growing Adjudication Center workload, said the GAO analysts.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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