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Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

U.S. wants to replace Argenbright at all airports

February 12, 2002

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— The government is trying to put troubled Argenbright Security Inc. out of the security business at U.S. airports.

The Federal Aviation Administration is seeking bids from other security companies to take over Argenbright's airline security operations. Argenbright has 40 percent of the market.

The FAA now oversees airline security, but that responsibility shifts to the new Transportation Security Administration beginning Sunday. The new agency also will supervise security screeners, a job now done by the airline industry.

By Nov. 19, some 30,000 federal employees, hired and trained by the TSA, will screen all passengers and luggage. Until then, private companies will continue to handle security screening as the new federal work force is phased in.

An Argenbright spokeswoman, Cynthia Faulkner, said the company was "ready to work with DOT and TSA and the aviation authorities during the transition period."

Last week, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the government would not sign any new contracts with Argenbright, but the company would continue its current operations. Now the Transportation Department doesn't want Argenbright to handle any airport security.

Argenbright staffed security checkpoints at Newark and Washington Dulles airports, where two of the planes hijacked on Sept. 11 took off from. The company also handled some security at Boston's Logan Airport, but not the areas where the two other hijacked planes took off from. The company lost its Boston contract after post-Sept. 11 security lapses.

There have been other problems as well. In November, Argenbright screeners allowed a man to pass through a Chicago checkpoint with knives and a stun gun. Last month, a company screener allowed a man whose shoes set off an explosive detection device to disappear from the San Francisco airport.

Argenbright, accused of hiring criminals to staff security checkpoints, was fined more than $1 million in May 2000 for failing to conduct background checks. Federal prosecutors charged in October 2001 that the company was still hiring convicted criminals.

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