Investigators found 73 people were cleared by the Transportation Security Administration to work in sensitive jobs at U.S. airports despite possible links to terrorism in their backgrounds, according to a government report made public on Monday.
The lapse was partly due to the TSA not having access to all names on the federal government’s terrorist watchlists, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general said. In addition, local criminal background checks on employees at 467 airports were even “less effective,” the report concluded.
The TSA has been frequently criticized by lawmakers for its hiring practices, passenger-screening methods and equipment purchases. Just last week, the agency’s acting chief, Melvin Carraway, was reassigned and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he directed the TSA to revise traveler screening procedures, citing classified tests that exposed holes in the process.
In the report Monday, investigators said they found thousands of TSA records on aviation workers with possibly incomplete and inaccurate biographic information. In some cases, applicants’ first names or Social Security numbers were missing, according to the report.
The 73 people with “possible terrorism-related information” in their backgrounds were employed by major airlines, airport vendors and others. The redacted report didn’t identify the individuals, their current employment status or what jobs they held.
“TSA acknowledged that these individuals were cleared for access to secure airport areas despite representing a potential transportation security threat,” the inspector general said.
The TSA requires any worker with access to areas beyond the passenger screening lines to have passed a background check.
The TSA’s vetting of those aviation workers can fall short because the agency doesn’t always have access to terror watchlists because of policies by other agencies, the inspector general said. The law also prohibits the TSA from conducting recurrent background checks of aviation employees to ensure they don’t commit crimes after being hired.
The TSA agreed to six improvements recommended by the inspector general, including better verification of credentials and other documentation. It agreed to work with other government agencies collecting terrorist reports to get more information on applicants and close the loophole, according to the report.
“It is vital to airport security that only fully vetted aviation workers receive credentials to access secure areas of our nation’s airports,” Inspector General John Roth said in a news release.