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Report: Felons hired in rush to fill screener jobs

From Mike M. Ahlers
CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the rush to hire more than 55,000 airport baggage screeners, the Transportation Security Administration swept up a few people that didn't belong in security positions, according to the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security.

Among them, some 85 screeners had felony convictions, 503 failed to disclose an arrest or conviction, and 338 had financial or similar disqualifying problems, according to Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin.

Altogether, some 1,208 of the original 55,600 new screeners were hired inappropriately, and have since been terminated for cause, Ervin said.

The problem came as the newly created TSA sought to meet a congressionally mandated December 31, 2002, deadline to federalize passenger and baggage screeners. At the height of activity in autumn 2002, the TSA was hiring approximately 5,000 screeners per week.

But in the spring of 2003, it was disclosed the TSA had put some 28,000 screeners to work without completing background checks. More than 1,000 had not even submitted fingerprints, the first step in the process.

Since then, the TSA has taken care of the backlog, Ervin said, but he did not have information about screeners hired since December of 2002.

Ervin said some 85 screeners were terminated for felony convictions, but he did not have specifics. Under the law, applicants are declared ineligible to work as screeners if they are convicted of any of 28 types of felonies within the past 10 years. The felonies include murder, treason, espionage, kidnapping, rape, arson, burglary, theft and other serious crimes.

The inspector general report says the TSA made numerous management errors in a hasty effort to hire screeners and meet congressional deadlines. The TSA did not conduct required background checks on some screeners, and initiated unnecessary background checks on thousands of others, the report says.

In recent months, the TSA has taken steps to correct deficiencies, Ervin said, adding that he expects to check on its progress in the future. The report gives 12 recommended changes to improve the TSA's process for hiring screeners.

In response, the TSA said it is now its policy to complete a criminal background check on a candidate before offering a job.

Rep. Dave Camp, R-Michigan, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Infrastructure, released a statement saying he is pleased with the TSA's progress.

"All screeners now have criminal background checks completed prior to beginning work, which means the American people can feel confident about a screener's integrity.

"All screeners pass fingerprint history and a records check before showing up for work. The Transportation Security Administration is strengthening its screening process, which was once under heavy criticism. Our airways are safer as a result," the statement said.


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