Many airports are beefing up background checks on workers in response to concerns about potential terror threats at our nations airports.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta has just announced that it will re-screen workers every two years to comply with a federal recommendation. The airport previously only ran background checks on new hires.

The changes come on the heels of a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General in June 2015 that recommended better vetting of workers. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) followed up the report with its own directive that airports must run fingerprint criminal background checks every couple of years on any employee with an airport badge. 

Too expensive?

Just over a year ago, ActiveCare reported on this exact security issue plaguing our nation’s airports. At that time, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – you know, those folks who are supposed to be keeping our nation’s airports and flyers safe – cleared 73 people with possible ties to terrorism through background checks.

When probed on the flaws in the system, many people were appalled when airport executives cited operational and cost challenges as the biggest reasons why airport workers weren’t routinely re-screened. In our post titled “U.S. Airports Scrutinized: Should You Re-Check Your Employees?” our Active Screening experts blasted this excuse and offered up several options that airports could use to implement thorough re-screening procedures.

Active Screening applauds the changes some U.S. airports are making to follow through with the TSA directives and keep our airports, their employees, and the millions of passengers who use them everyday safe from potential terror threats and other workplace safety incidents. We do offer a word of caution, though: FBI fingerprint checks are often riddled with flawed information and may need to be used as part of a comprehensive background check process.

To learn more about the origins of the re-screening issue facing our nation’s airports, we invite you read our previous post “U.S. Airports Scrutinized: Should You Re-Check Your Employees?” which we’ve included below.

Safe travels!

February 2015 – “U.S. Airports Scrutinized: Should You Re-Check Your Employees?”

The nation’s airports are once again making headlines, but this time poor weather isn’t the culprit. Insufficient post-hire screening policies for airport employees, in particular those with access to airplanes and tarmacs, have been exposed following a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Transportation Security. The issue came to light after a CNN investigation uncovered that only two major U.S. airports have a security system that requires employees to undergo daily screening before performing their jobs.

This is the part that is really confusing and disappointing:

“There is no federal requirement that the baggage handlers, mechanics, cleaning crews and other employees with access to the airfield and other secure areas get screened as passengers do. They are typically subject to a criminal background check and might get randomly screened while at work. By contrast, those who work at the gates, such as restaurant employees, pass through TSA security checkpoints.” – as reported by CNN

Operational and Cost Challenges

So why don’t more airports routinely screen existing employees? If you’re to believe Miguel Southwell, the general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (where three major security breaches, including a gun smuggling operation, recently occurred) it’s because full-scale screening is too expensive and too hard to maintain.

Here’s his exact written statement:

“We recognize that 100% screening of airport employees has operational and cost challenges.”

The fact is, though, that there are plenty of viable, long-term, routine screening options available for large operations, including those in the transportation and government industries. Consulting with a nationally-accredited backgrounding agency like Active Screening that has customizable platforms for pre-employment screening and post-hire routine screening, is a solid place to start.

Faulty Logic

The most confusing aspect of the discovery that thousands of airport employees aren’t given follow-up background checks, and routinely report to their jobs without any daily security screening, is that billions of dollars per year are spent on passenger screening – you know, people like us who don’t have access to aircraft and tarmacs like airport and airline employees do. It’s enough to make Rep. John Katko, R-New York, chairman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee, wonder:

“What good is all the screening at the front door if we are not paying attention enough at the back door? The answer is common sense.”

Post-Hire Screening Makes Sense

A government report shows that costs for full screening of airport and airline employees could run between $5.7 to $14.9 billion for the first year. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) budget for 2015 is $7.3 billion. Clearly, there is a money issue. No one argues that.

There are several ways to implement routine, post-hire background checks. If cost is a concern, check out this creative solution courtesy of a Minnesota school district. Or, read this post about a bill making the rounds that would mandate routine background checks for teachers – it’s full of money-saving ideas (hint: employees should pay for their own follow-up background checks).

Letting the potential cost of post-hire screening determine your actions now, can cost you big time in the end. When it comes to protecting your employees and the thousands, or maybe millions, of people visiting our nation’s airports everyday, it seems like common sense to spend the money on such a worthwhile cause.

We like this statement that CNN procured from a Miami-based security expert:

“We have a saying in our business: Budget driven security will always fail.”

Wondering how you can make this happen for your own business? Consult with a member of our talented team of experts.

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