Upon Alarming News Of Airport Security Concerns, Menendez Demands Answers From Federal Government

Upon Alarming News Of Airport Security Concerns, Menendez Demands Answers From Federal Government

News reports this week uncovered lax screenings for Newark airport personnel and workers tied to drug ring

Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is demanding answers on federal security procedures for airport personnel upon disturbing reports about the security at Newark Liberty International Airport. This week, the Star Ledger reported on lax security screenings for Newark airport personnel, as well as airline employees who have been implicated in heroin and theft rings. These revelations have spurred Senator Menendez to seek answers from the heads of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration.

"I want to know why the federal government on one hand makes passengers take off their shoes as part of a full security screening process but on the other hand barely checks personnel who have access to sensitive areas of the airport," said Senator Menendez. "These recent incidents aren't the first indication that personnel screening is inadequate. We need to get to the bottom of why there are still holes in airport security so we can take the necessary steps to make our airports as safe and efficient as possible."

PDF of Menendez letter to DHS and TSA: http://menendez.senate.gov/pdf/032608TSAWorkerScreeningLetter.pdf

Text of letter:

March 26, 2008

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

The Honorable Kip Hawley
Transportation Security Administration
Arlington, VA 22202

Dear Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Hawley:

I am writing to express my concern about security procedures at our nation's airports, specifically the screening of airport workers. Yesterday, the Star Ledger reported an incident involving airline employees smuggling heroin onto a plane as part of an international trafficking operation. This comes on the heels of previous reports detailing a lack of daily screening of airline employees at Newark Liberty Airport and an incident in which baggage handlers were involved in a counterfeit ring. These incidents alone are reason for concern - together, they raise serious questions about the adequacy of our nation's airline employee screening procedures.

Ensuring the safety and security of our nation's planes and airports is a complex, difficult task. However, we are now years beyond September 11th. We have had years to develop screening techniques, put in place more advanced security measures, and learn by trial and error. It is only reasonable to expect that by now our nation would have clear, uniform procedures in place to address the screening of airport employees. But, based on these recent reports, this clearly is not yet the case.

Airport workers are an integral part of our nation's aviation system. They are responsible for a wide range of services in and around an airport, stretching from food service and retail store employees, to baggage handling or airplane maintenance. Most importantly, the vast majority of airport employees - as many as 90 percent - have access to secure areas of an airport. In nearly every other sector in which security is a concern, from private industry to government agencies, employees go through screening or metal detectors every day. It is troubling that when it comes to our nation's airports, this principle does not seem to apply. In addition, the fact that pilots and flight attendants undergo security every time they fly, but those who handle cargo, luggage, and have access to planes on the tarmac face little or no screening seems to simply defy common sense.

While I applaud TSA for working to improve employee screening, including a pilot project that is underway at a handful of airports around the country, I am afraid this effort has been at a pace that does not meet the urgency security at our airports requires. The fact is, at too many of our nation's airports, far too little screening is taking place. This leaves a vulnerable hole in our security that we cannot afford.

When employees who have access to the most secure areas of our airports can walk through security with little or no security check, I think this raises some serious questions as to whether our current framework is adequate.

With these concerns in mind, I respectfully ask for your response to the following questions.

• Are you confident that current procedures for employee screening at Newark Liberty Airport and around the country are adequate?
• Why don't we have systematic daily screening of airline employees?
• Shouldn't airport employees be subject to the same security procedures as pilots and flight attendants?
• Shouldn't there be uniform national standards for screening of airport employees at every airport?
• Why should airports be able to set their own security procedures for employee screening?
• What are you doing in the interim of the TSA pilot project to monitor employee screening at airports around the country?

I look forward to your response, and to working with you to improve the security of all our nation's airports.


United States Senator

cc: Barbara Powell, Federal Security Director, Transportation Security Administration
Susan Bass Levin, First Deputy Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
William DeCota, Director of Aviation, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Ralph Tragale, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey