Tuesday, May 03, 2005

U.S. airport screeners lack training and standards, report says


U.S. airport screeners lack training and standards, report says

By LESLIE MILLER Associated Press Writer

(AP) - WASHINGTON-A congressional report released Monday criticized the Transportation Security Administration for failing to produce a standard to measure the quality of its airport screeners and for not providing them promised training.

The Government Accountability Office said while it may be impossible for screeners to detect 100 percent of dangerous items that airline passengers try to carry onto planes, the TSA should set a standard for the screeners so it can focus on where to improve, the GAO report said.

TSA screeners' inability to find guns, weapons and other dangerous items since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks has been a continuing problem.

"Weaknesses and vulnerabilities continue to exist in passenger and checked baggage screening systems at airports of all sizes, at airports with federal screeners and at airports with private-sector screeners," the report said.

The GAO urged the agency to set standards for how many threat objects screeners intercept when undercover agents try to slip them through airport checkpoints.

"Without performance targets for covert testing, TSA will not have identified a desired level of performance related to screener detection of threat objects," the report said.

The TSA, responding to the GAO, said it has created broad performance indexes for airports, such as the percentage of screeners who pass annual tests and the numbers of passengers they screen. The TSA said it will have set individual performance standards by October.

Screeners are required by law to receive 40 hours of classroom instruction and 60 hours of on-the-job training before they can check passengers or bags on their own. The GAO acknowledged that TSA has been trying to upgrade training and improve screener performance.

A classified version of the report, and a separate report by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general, went further in their negative assessments of the screeners than those publicly available, according to members of Congress who were briefed.

Rep. John Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, said the GAO report showed private screeners perform better than public screeners. Several senior Democratic congressmen said both performed poorly.

TSA, in a statement, said the reports "observed consistent performance in the two groups."