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Archive for Saturday, May 17, 2003

Thousands of U.S. airport screeners hired without background checks

May 17, 2003

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— About 22,000 of the 55,000 airport screeners hired by the government haven't undergone criminal background checks, the chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee said Friday.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said he has told the Transportation Security Administration it must speed up the process to ensure qualified people were doing the work.

"It is a concern because one of the reasons we federalized this in the first place was because there hadn't been background checks, or standards for background checks, before Sept. 11," Mica said.

Fewer than 1 percent of those checked had a criminal background, Mica said. Not all have been fired, however, even though that would be required under administration rules.

After the 9-11 terror attacks, Congress ordered the federal government to take over the screening duties from private companies at 424 commercial airports. The rules said all screeners would undergo criminal history checks.

Hiring tens of thousands of people proved an enormous task for the Transportation Security Administration, created shortly after the attacks. The lengthy process of completing background checks couldn't be accomplished before the Nov. 19 deadline to have them all in place, Mica said.

Normally, screeners are not deployed at airports until they have had criminal history checks by the FBI and by a Justice Department contractor, ChoicePoint Inc., said administration spokesman Brian Turmail. ChoicePoint also investigates applicants' employment history and interviews their acquaintances by phone, Turmail said.

The Office of Personnel Management, an independent government agency, follows up with a six-month background check, which involves contacting, in writing or in person, former employers and neighbors, Turmail said.

If either check reveals a screener has committed a felony, the worker has a chance to rebut the information.

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