Security Personnel at Dulles Seen as Risk
Drummond, Daniel F., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Daniel F. Drummond
More than 80 percent of the departure-gate screeners and baggage handlers at Washington Dulles International Airport are not U.S. citizens, which makes completing full background checks on them difficult, according to Kenneth M. Meade, inspector general of the Department of Transportation.
At recent congressional hearings, Mr. Meade also testified that "non-U.S. citizens without proper" immigration status by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) "were authorized to enter secured areas of Dulles."
"Say someone is from Somalia, and they may be a wonderful person, but they have just been through a war and they don't have records," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican. "How am I going to do the background check? The records are destroyed, you just can't do it." Mr. Wolf, one of several House Republicans seeking to federalize security and baggage screeners, said the public is at risk because proper background checks are not being done. He said the Justice Department should handle airport security.
He said the need for a federal takeover of airport security can be seen clearly in the Justice Department's recent finding that Argenbright Security Inc. of Atlanta had hired screeners with criminal records and did not perform proper background checks.
Argenbright, one of the nation's largest airport-security companies, provides all of the passenger security and most of the baggage handling at Dulles. It also provides security screeners for some parts of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Last year, Argenbright paid $1.5 million in fines and other costs associated with its failure to perform background checks on its employees. Between 1995 and 1998, Argenbright hired more than 1,300 untrained screeners at Philadelphia International Airport.
Argenbright officials yesterday did not return calls seeking comment.
The Senate last week unanimously approved an airport security bill that includes a provision for federalizing airport security workers. A similar bill has stalled in the House because of Republican concern about federalizing the screeners.
Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said the hiring of foreign nationals does not provide the proper security needed.
"It's too important of a function not to have a higher quality work force," Mr. Moran said.
Mr. Moran said he does not want anyone who can legally work in the country to be out of a job, but part of the problem is that the low pay offered by the security companies - $5.15 to $7 an hour to start - usually attracts "the lowest common denominator" of the work force who lack the skills needed for sensitive positions. …