- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2001

Regional members of Congress say results from a recent federal investigation of security screeners at Washington Dulles International Airport show that current security procedures are failing the travelling public.
"Its unacceptable and the system is broken, clearly," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. "The current system is so flawed that you federalize it, you professionalize it, and do security checks in a professional way."
Over the weekend, investigators with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that seven out of 20 security screeners at Dulles or about 35 percent failed a pop quiz testing their knowledge of basic security procedures.
Currently, security screeners are only required to go through 12 hours of training, pass a written test, and be retested on an annual basis. Those seven persons who failed the test over the weekend were removed from their positions, the OIG said.
The FAA is also performing background-check audits at 20 major airports, including Dulles, on security screeners employed since December 2000, when stricter regulations were put in place.
The audits are being done first at airports where Atlanta-based Argenbright Security Inc., which is under Justice Department scrutiny for failing to follow FAA guidelines and hiring known criminals, operates. Argenbright was ordered to pay $1.5 million in fines and restitution in October 2000 for giving false statements to the FAA, as well as not following federal aviation-security guidelines.
Yesterday, the FAA also ordered criminal background checks be done on up to 1 million airline and airport security workers.
Argenbright provides security at both Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
In a statement, Bill Barbour, the president and CEO of Argenbright, said the preliminary findings by the OIG are typical of ongoing reviews and shows that "in the majority of cases, we have complied with aviation-security regulations."
Mr. Barbour said that it is because of the increased scrutiny on airline security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks that federal authorities "are taking the unusual step of publishing their preliminary findings."
During the weekend spot-checks at Dulles, investigators working for the OIG arrested Thomas Brown of Herndon after he purportedly passed through a security checkpoint with a concealed pocketknife. Mr. Brown has been charged with attempting to board an aircraft with a concealed weapon, a felony. He has been detained and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 23.
Yesterday, a German woman was charged with making bomb threats at Dulles. Cornelia Roessler made a joke on Oct. 10 about a bomb in one of her bags because she was frustrated with the number of times it had been searched.
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said the recent breaches of security underscore the need to federalize security.
"Right now, you have no one to hold responsible," he said. "It only takes one terrorist and one weapon to get through."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, said the revelations about test failure rates first reported in The Washington Post show that private companies cannot provide the security the public expects.
"We've got to do better," Mr. Davis said. "This is a time when the country can't afford to take chances."
While Mr. Davis said he is "neutral" on whether airport security should be federalized, Mr. Wolf is one of a handful of House Republicans backing a federal takeover.
"Law enforcement is a very difficult thing to privatize," Mr. Wolf said.
Mr. Wolf said he is also concerned thorough background checks are not being done on the foreign nationals who work at Dulles. He said accurate background checks are difficult because some immigrants come from countries that do not have or keep needed records.
Testifying recently before Congress, Transportation Inspector General Kenneth M. Meade said more than 80 percent of security and baggage handlers at Dulles were not American citizens and that on Sept. 14, Argenbright "employees who are non-U.S. citizens without proper [Immigration and Naturalization Service] status were authorized to enter secured areas of Dulles."
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said that he supports the federalization of 28,000 security screeners because it would provide a greater level of scrutiny and tougher standards.
"The American people need the reassurance that they can travel safely," Mr. Warner said.
The Senate last week voted 100 to 0 for an airline-security bill that included the federalization of security screeners. The Republican-led House, however, is split over the issue of federalization.
Terry Holt, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said turning private jobs over to the federal government does not mean a better job will be done.
"This has a lot more to do with the standards set for screeners than who cuts their paycheck," Mr. Holt said.


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