TSA Lapses Preceded Honolulu Failures, Audit Concludes

Transportation Security Administration mistakes, including leaving explosive-detection equipment in a warehouse for more than two years, contributed to unscreened baggage being loaded onto planes at Honolulu International Airport for several months in 2010, a report said.

TSA managers struggled to implement changes in procedures and had too few screeners for the volume of luggage, the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General said in a report released today. The agency doesn’t know how many bags went unscreened, the report said.

“This report and one TSA fiasco after another have demonstrated that this isn’t the problem of a few bad apples,” U.S. Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican who requested the review, said in a statement. “There are system-wide problems with this massive bureaucracy.”

The Honolulu airport is the nation’s 29th-largest by passenger traffic. The investigation started with an internal TSA review after a whistle-blower alerted the agency that unscreened bags were being put on flights, the report said. More than 40 employees, including the top security official at the airport, were fired or suspended.

While individual employees were primarily responsible for the security lapses, TSA management contributed to the situation by changing procedures frequently, failing to deploy enough staff and not deploying equipment that would have made screening easier, the inspector general said.

Equipment Sought

Explosive-detection machines were requested by airport officials in August 2008, the report said. TSA informed the airport in 2009 that the equipment would arrive in 18 months. The machines arrived in December 2010 as an inspector general audit began, the report said.

TSA’s initial investigation at Honolulu focused on the behavior of individuals and not whether systemic shortcomings may have been to blame, Mica said. The agency said Honolulu was the only airport where screening procedures weren’t followed, without showing the inspector general evidence it had reviewed other airports, the Florida Republican said.

The inspector general looked at airport management in response to a request from Mica and Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican.

TSA disagrees with the inspector general’s conclusion that better implementation of screening-procedure changes could have prevented the violations of security protocol, Administrator John Pistole said in a response attached to the report. The loading of unscreened luggage in Honolulu became “almost normal practice,” Pistole wrote.

‘Willful’ Violations

“The willful nature of the officers’ violations and the lack of sufficiently diligent management oversight, does not support the conclusion,” Pistole wrote.

TSA recently overhauled job requirements of checked-baggage supervisors and managers, and added new training courses in July, Lauren Gaches, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a statement. The agency is also responding to the inspector general by reviewing the way it implements changes to standard operating procedures, she said.

Emily Ryan, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees, couldn’t provide an immediate comment on the report or on whether dismissed TSA screeners would appeal their punishments.

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