W A S H I N G T O N, June 4 -- The Transportation Security Administration has fired more than 1,200 passenger security screeners, after background checks showed that some of them were convicted felons.
And six months after the TSA took over airport security, it still has not completed background checks on over half of its 53,000 screeners.
"One mistake, or one unsavory character and you have one huge, potentially fatal circumstance on your hands," said Representative Hal Rogers, Republican from Kentucky. Rogers is the chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which held hearings into the matter Tuesday.
The concern stems from TSA employee statistics revealed by Rogers at the hearing. Eighty-five of the 1,200 screeners fired had been convicted of felonies prior to their employment with the TSA. In addition, 503 failed to disclose prior arrests and 137 had pre-employment drug convictions. Each of those dismissed had been given jobs initially, while background checks were pending.
Admiral James Loy, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the new Department of Homeland Security, testified Tuesday that the TSA's method of hiring is standard practice across government agencies.
"[T]he normal process of a hire pending the completion of a background investigation is a relatively routine process," he said.
But lawmakers are concerned that once notification of potential problems reached the TSA, action was still taken slowly. Representative Tom Latham, R-Iowa, expressed concerns over the timeline taken.
"Why wasn't this done in February or March? Why wasn't the priority put in place at that time?" Latham said.
Loy said that in hindsight, he wished his department had acted differently.
"Frankly, looking back I wish I had had the insight to do exactly that. So I don't have an excuse for you, if you're looking for one."
Lt. Col. Mike Ferrill, a former TSA manager at the South Bend, Ind., airport, contends that a thorough screening could have been completed in the first 30 to 60 days.