(CNSNews.com) -- The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) mismanagement of a program responsible for issuing security badges to aviation employees resulted in at least 11 individuals with criminal backgrounds obtaining badges that allowed access to secure areas of U.S. airports.
An aviation employee is anyone who is allowed unescorted access to secured areas of airports. This includes airport employees in addition to TSA Officers.
According to a Feb. 22 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the TSA’s mishandling of the program caused a backlog of security badges that had yet to be issued.
As a result, the TSA permitted airports to issue security badges to employees without conducting federally required background checks between April 20 and June 1 of 2012.
The OIG concluded that there still may be individuals with criminal records who are working in secured areas of airports.
The OIG told CNSNews.com that the TSA has not completed a review as of Mar. 8 to determine whether or not there are still individuals whose badges need to be deactivated.
“TSA did not track which airports temporarily issued badges without the required background checks. Therefore, individuals with criminal records may currently have access to secured areas in our Nation’s airports,” the report said.
The TSA required airports to conduct follow up background checks following the exemption period, and deactivate the security badges of those who shouldn’t have received them.
Badges should have been deactivated if a background check disqualified an individual or yielded no results after 14 days.
A survey conducted at the request of OIG contacted the 446 total airports in the United States -- 290 airports responded, 168 of which reported using processes other than federal background checks.
The survey found at least 11 individuals among five different airports in the United States who received security badges despite having a criminal record. Of those 11, six had their badges deactivated and five still had secured access beyond 14 days.
In March 2010, the TSA started to set up the Aviation Challenging Services Provider (ACSP) program to select vendors to vet airport workers and aircraft operators. This was in response to a request of airports to increase market competition among security vendors beyond the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).
However, the TSA failed to document much of its activity associated with the project. For example, OIG reported there was no documentation granting authority to the ACSP project manager, saying at one point in the report, “TSA did not have documentation that provided the ACSP project manager with the authority to make project decisions.”
Instead, project decisions were made in a collaborative manner without any need for formal approvals.
“Although the ACSP project manager briefed senior leadership regarding the project status, there was no requirement to receive formal approvals from senior managers on project decisions,” the report said.
“This project team, with the ACSP project manager as the chair, made project decisions. TSA did not maintain team meeting minutes but relied on agendas as evidence of actions assigned to each responsible member of the team,” the OIG later added.
The project also did not establish proper standards and deadlines to determine whether or not vendors were prepared to do their work. This created a backlog of security badges and employees were unable to enter secured areas at airports.
“As a result of the inadequate testing, airports began to experience significant problems with the new DAC [Designated Aviation Channeler] system,” the report said. “For instance, TSA was not receiving enrollment data and badging offices could not see results in AAAE’s DAC system. Airport operations were hindered because of aviation workers’ inability to access secured areas without proper badge authority.”
The TSA has concurred with all of OIG’s recommendations to correct program deficiencies and claims to have revoked badges from those who should not have received them. According to the OIG, TSA has not made immediate plans to discontinue ACSP.
As of Feb. 22, the OIG still needed to confirm that TSA identified all badges issued during the background exemption period, and that the proper badges were deactivated.
“We need to verify that TSA identified all individuals who obtained badges during the period of time when the use of alternate measures was permitted,” the OIG said. “We will review the actions taken to ensure that TSA issued all badges during the backlog in accordance with Federal requirements and with the proper security checks.”