GAO points to airport security holes

A General Accounting Office report has concluded that the nation's airports have significant holes in employee screening systems.

The report targets the Transportation Security Administration's protection of secure airport areas, back entrances and exits, and the screening of airport workers. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and House Select Committee on Homeland Security ranking member Jim Turner (D-Texas) released the report.

The report states that TSA officials have not yet finished assessing, recommending or deploying technology, such as biometrics, to address unauthorized access. The agency is conducting a two-part pilot test of airport access in which eight airports were chosen to test a variety of technologies, including biometrics.

Some critics contend that TSA officials have conducted too many assessments. In a mid-May hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure's Aviation Subcommittee, lawmakers complained that the agency was stagnating in the pilot phase of several biometrics programs to identify workers and passengers.

The report also found that TSA does not require that airport workers with unescorted-access privileges to secure areas be physically screened before they enter these areas. Agency officials say onetime employee fingerprinting is sufficient and physical screening would be expensive and difficult. But 4,200 workers falsified documents to gain access to secure areas, and some were cleared through fingerprint checks, according to a federal investigation.

"I would guess this GAO report will send a shiver down the spines of Secretary [Tom] Ridge and TSA acting administrator [David] Stone, who must assert their leadership to raise airport security to the minimum level Congress requested by law more than two years ago," Lieberman said.

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