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FAA orders criminal checks on airport workers

From Kathleen Koch and Beth Lewandowski
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Every employee with access to secure areas of the nation's airports will be required to undergo a criminal background check, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday.

"I am directing that a criminal history check be done on all airline and airport employees with access to secure areas," FAA Administrator Jane Garvey told an audience at the National Press Club.

The background checks could start to be performed as early as Monday on up to 1 million employees who have access to areas of the airport typically off-limits to passengers including ramps, tarmacs and off-duty airplanes. These employees include caterers, mechanics, parts suppliers, and cleaners as well as airline and security personnel.

There are 25 crimes that disqualify an individual from gaining employment as a baggage screener or other person with access to secure areas of an airplane, the FAA said.

These include murder, assault with intent to murder, espionage, treason, rape, kidnapping, unlawful possession of an explosive or weapon, extortion, armed robbery, distribution of or intent to distribute controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, armed robbery, willful destruction of property, burglary, theft, fraud, and aggravated assault.

Previously, criminal background checks had only been required for airport or airline employees hired after December 2000 and for any employees hired before December 2000 who showed gaps in employment.

The background checks will be handled by the air carriers with the assistance of the White House Office of Personnel Management and the FBI and could take up to nine months to complete.

In order to complete the criminal checks in a timely manner, Garvey said the FAA was willing to assist in purchasing needed equipment. "For our part, federal dollars are available -- through the Airport Improvement Program -- for airports to purchase fingerprinting machines that will speed up the background checks," she said.

Audits of employee background checks of those hired after December 2000 were also ordered last week by Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. The audits of aviation security firm records of employees started with the nation's 20 largest airports.

In addition, after September 11, all airlines were required to revalidate their employees' badges in order to check their names against the FBI's watch list of suspected terrorists.

Separately, a review of Atlanta-based Argenbright Security's personnel records was performed last Friday at 14 airports nationwide. Preliminary findings released Tuesday indicate investigators found the company continues to hire employees with criminal records that should disqualify them for their positions.

Friday's investigations were requested by Mineta after the Justice Department filed a motion last week against Argenbright Security for violating terms of its probation stemming from incidents at Philadelphia International Airport.

Three managers pleaded guilty in May 2000 to hiring employees with criminal backgrounds and deliberately falsifying the records, and the company was ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in fines and restitution as well as take steps to prevent the violations from recurring.

The Aviation Security Association, which represents Argenbright and some of the other major security firms, has repeatedly called for the federal government to take over the responsibility of conducting criminal background checks on all of its employees -- a responsibility that currently falls on the shoulders of the airlines and security companies.


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