- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

New York airport baggage screeners were fed answers to written tests and were not asked to identify bombs, guns or other dangerous objects in carry-on luggage, a homeland security official said yesterday.

Clark Kent Ervin, the acting inspector general for the Homeland Security Department, said a review of the Transportation Security Administration’s testing procedures found that on a recent final exam given to new screeners at LaGuardia Airport, 22 of the 25 questions were used during the practice quiz, and testing protocol “maximized the likelihood that students would pass.”

“It is extremely disturbing that most of the questions were rehearsed before the final examination, that a number of the questions were phrased so as to provide an obvious clue to the correct answer, and other questions appear to be simplistic,” Mr. Ervin said.

One question asks “why is it important to screen bags for IEDs? (improvised explosive devices).” Multiple-choice answers included “ticking timer could worry other passengers,” “batteries could leak and damage other passenger bags,” or the wires could “cause a short to the aircraft wires.”

The correct answer is that “IEDs can cause loss of lives, property and aircraft.”

“Some questions give away the answer and some are simply inane,” Mr. Ervin said.

Another multiple-choice question asks how “threats get aboard an aircraft.” The choices are carry-on baggage, checked bags, or another person’s bag, and the correct answer is “all of the above.”

The report said another “critical defect” in the testing and certification process is that “not a single question called upon a student to demonstrate a sufficient mastery” to identity prohibited objects in bags.

The TSA contracts with Boeing Services Co. to train nearly 30,000 employees to check carry-on baggage and contracted with Northrop-Grumman to develop the curriculum and tests.

TSA spokesman Brian Turmail told The Washington Times that the inspector general only reviewed one component of a regimen that every screener undergoes, including 40 hours of classes and 60 hours of on-the-job training.

The final written test is “one small part of a comprehensive training regimen,” he said.

“We understand screeners don’t find bombs using multiple-choice tests, that’s why every TSA screener has to demonstrate in a real world environment an ability to screen for explosives and keep bombs off airplanes,” Mr. Turmail said.

The review was requested by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, after reports in January that tests were compromised and the aviation-security chief at LaGuardia resigned.

“If our whole goal with the TSA is to tighten security, having a ridiculously easy test undercuts that goal at the knees,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement.

“The point of federalizing airport security was to improve security by hiring well-trained employees who would be paid at more than just a minimum-wage level. The ludicrousness of this test undercuts everything Congress was trying to do in that regard,” Mr. Schumer said.

A report last month by the General Accounting Office showed inadequate training of screeners and lax supervision. Undercover investigators were also successful in sneaking weapons past screeners.

“TSA currently collects little information regarding screener performance in detecting threat objects,” the report said.

Charles Slepian, chief executive officer of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, said $11 billion has been invested in personnel for airport screening.

Mr. Slepian said the reports show a “national disgrace.”

“The only conclusion is we are faced with a sham everyday we walk into an airport. They are either just negligent or worse,” Mr. Slepian said.

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