Skift Take

Somehow just three U.S. airports out of 300 have greatly increased oversight of airport workers in the last two years. This should worry travelers.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on transportation security Wednesday, with a specific focus on performing better vetting of airport employees.

Lawmakers grilled Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator Peter Neffenger on the lack of progress on security enhancements at U.S. airports in response to last month’s Brussels airport attack.

A particular emphasis was placed on the lack of additional security at airports, in the wake of the gun smuggling ring that was busted at Atlanta’s airport in December 2014. The bombing of a Russian airliner departing Egypt late last year was also mentioned.

“You require security screenings for passengers on the plane, but what about the stuff getting on the plane?” asked Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “The gun-running scheme showed tremendous vulnerability at 300 airports. At that point, only two [airports] had done a perimeter security [upgrade] where they had reduced to a handful the number of entry points and had the adequate checking of badges.”

According to Nelson, only Atlanta, Miami and Orlando airports have reduced the number of entry points for airport workers and increased security screening.

“There are so many cases of workers with airport badges committing criminal acts,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the committee’s chairman.

Neffenger said the TSA expects to receive a full security report on America’s 300 airports by the end of the month that includes how many entry points are vulnerable at each airport, but he could not provide any concrete testimony to the committee today.

“I haven’t had adequate specifics to satisfy this committee,” said Neffenger. “There has been a lot of movement in reducing security access points across the system and greatly enhance the oversight of that insider population. Once we evaluate, that’s going to drive us to [update] the security plans for those airports and drive those [changes] into the other airports across the country.”

For the time being, the TSA has stepped up random screenings of airport employees, specifically those who bring materials into airport terminals.

“What I wanted to do was provide random unpredictability to the system,” said Neffenger. “We want to create an expectation that if you’re bringing something in, we’re going to take a look at it.”

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Tags: security, tsa

Photo credit: TSA administrator Peter Neffenger addresses Congress on April 6, 2016. C-SPAN / CSPAN

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