Oct. 13, 2008 -- The agency overseeing security at the nation's airports failed for years to track security passes and uniforms of former employees, creating widespread vulnerability to terrorists, says a government watchdog report obtained by USA TODAY.
The Transportation Security Administration lacked centralized controls over the secure passes issued to some of its employees, according to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner. The passes grant people access to the most sensitive areas of an airport, such as where baggage is screened or planes are parked.
Investigators found numerous cases in which former employees retained their passes long after they had left the agency.
The investigation also found that TSA uniforms were frequently not collected when employees left or were transferred.
People using improper badges, IDs or uniforms — particularly in combination — "could significantly increase an airport's vulnerability to unauthorized access and, potentially, a wide variety of terrorist and criminal acts," the report said.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the findings confirm his fears that there is inadequate oversight of who gets into airports. "The risk of unauthorized access to the secure areas of our airports is unacceptable," Thompson said in a statement.
Thompson supported legislation that increased scrutiny of airport workers after employees were caught smuggling weapons and drugs into secure areas.
TSA chief Kip Hawley says the agency agrees with most of the inspector general's findings and began following the recommendations from investigators before the report was completed. The agency is tightening oversight of security passes, requiring collection of passes from officers who leave the agency and improving tracking of employee uniforms.
"While we believe the … report overstates deficiencies as well as any potential associated security risk, we share the interest in improving our processes," Hawley wrote in response to the report.