Legislation was passed by the House that would streamline and strengthen the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) screening procedures for airport and airline employees by requiring the TSA Administrator to establish a risk-based, intelligence-driven screening model that subjects employees to more frequent, more randomized security screenings and minimizes the number of employee entry and exit points.
The legislation, the Airport Access Control Security Improvement Act of 2015 (HR 3102), introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-NY), and Kathleen Rice (D-NY), chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Subcommittee, was passed in by a bipartisan vote.
Both freshmen members, Katko and Rice said they focused on fighting through Washington gridlock to deliver this piece of important bipartisan legislative.
In joint statement, Katko and Rice said HR 3102 “comes in response to several recent incidents in which airport and airline employees used their security credentials to bypass security screening and transport prohibited items, including illegal drugs and guns, into secure areas of airports and onto commercial flights.”
Passage of the bill comes on the heels of Homeland Security Today reporting that TSA screening officers will, for the 5th consecutive year, find a record number of handguns in passengers’ carry-on bags – many of which are loaded, and many with a round chambered. So far this year, TSA screeners have found more than 2,000 firearms.
The continued escalation of TSA hand gun seizures comes at a time when the threat of homegrown Islamist jihadists also is continuing to grow, and attacks on airliners continues to be a target of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
Katko and Rice’s legislation would also direct the TSA Administrator to determine whether TSA should expand the number of criminal offenses that disqualify an individual from obtaining a job that requires access to secure areas of airports, as well as to determine whether TSA should lengthen the “look-back period” when reviewing an individual’s criminal history.
“Threats to our aviation sector continue to evolve, as evidenced by the recent security breaches at airports nationwide where airport and airline employees have been able to bypass security and smuggle drugs, illegal substances, and guns into secure areas of domestic airports,” Katko said in a statement. "This legislation presents commonsense reforms to address these gaps in security and ensure the safety of the traveling public."
Rice added that, “As several recent incidents have shown, weak access controls can too easily allow airport and airline employees to sneak weapons, drugs and other dangerous items into secure areas of airports and onto commercial flights, and that’s a risk we simply cannot accept.”
Continuing, Rica said, “In response to the Aviation Security Advisory Committee’s recommendations and the bipartisan investigations we’ve conducted on the Transportation Security Subcommittee, this legislation takes action to tighten access controls, beef up employee vetting and screening, and better protect the millions of passengers who pass through our nation’s airports and fly on our planes. I’m grateful to Chairman Katko for his leadership on the subcommittee, and I’m eager to work together to ensure this bill is taken up by our colleagues in the Senate and sent to the President’s desk.”
Specifically, Katko and Rice’s legislation:
- Requires TSA to develop procedures for risk-based screening of airport and airline employees;
- Makes critical reforms to the employee screening process to ensure those who have access to our nation’s airports do not pose a threat;
- Provides additional law-enforcement resources to screen employees;
- Establishes an oversight framework to ensure Congress can closely monitor improvements surrounding employee vetting and screening; and
- Codifies an important set of recommendations offered by the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC), which includes industry stakeholders and TSA. Over the last few months, ASAC has conducted a review of these issues.
Katko and Rice, respectively chairman and ranking member, carry consider weight on the Transportation Security Subcommittee, which has sole jurisdiction over all TSA security matters, including the security of passengers and cargo within the nation’s aviation system, and TSA’s work to secure various modes of surfacetransportation such as mass transit systems, railroads, trucks and pipelines.
Katko and Rice have led the committee’s effort during this session of Congress “to address employee access control issues,” a statement said, noting that, “This oversight has complemented a broader and ongoing review of TSA’s operations, policies and procedures. The subcommittee’s oversight over these instances revealed: shortcomings in employee vetting, improper use of employee credentials, and a range of challenges that have inhibited employee screening.