Airport workers slip through screening

A company that received a contract from the Homeland Security Department to screen potential airport employees may be penalized because it failed to detect a number of applicants with criminal backgrounds, DHS Secretary Tom Ridge said today.

Testifying for the first time before the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, Ridge said the lapses occurred because DHS outsourced a massive amount work to identify potential airport screeners and quickly get them hired.

"I'm not going to condone the sloppiness of what was done," Ridge said. He did not identify the company, but said a considerable amount of money is being withheld from payment because of the incidents.

Ridge said the problem occurred because the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not have the manpower to conduct background checks for more than 55,000 screeners, so DHS decided to privatize the process. The Office of Personnel Management is now doing fingerprint checks for the next level of investigation.

More than two-dozen security screeners at Los Angeles International Airport and 50 at John F. Kennedy International Airport were found to have criminal backgrounds, a fact that was not uncovered in the initial screening process.

Meanwhile, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the panel, criticized DHS for failing to inspect cargo that is carried onboard passenger planes.

"We are aware of the deficiency with regard to inspections," Ridge said. "We focused on baggage and now we're focusing on cargo."

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