The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation aimed at tightening screening for airport workers.
Employee IDs, called Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges and Sterile Area active badges, allow thousands of San Diego airport employees access to the most secure areas. Lindbergh Field has more than 7,000 security badges held by active employees, tenants and contractors.
The investigative team at NBC Dallas/Fort Worth found thousands of security badges at airports across the nation were missing. Click here to see the NBC DFW story.
From March 2013 to March 2015, NBC 7 Investigates found 276 ID badges from Lindbergh Field employees or contractors were reported missing. More than 20 of those ID badges were missing for six days or more before they were reported. In one case, eight months went by.
Click here to see the NBC 7 Investigates original story.
New security badges were issued at airports across the nation, including Lindbergh Field, after the investigative stories aired.
Wednesday, U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the committee's ranking member; Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.); and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) voted to approve the Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act. They jointly introduced the bill.
Click here to read the bill.
“To secure sensitive airport areas, access must be limited to properly credentialed airport employees who have been thoroughly vetted and follow the rules,” Thune said. “The Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act provides enhanced tools for oversight and vetting of personnel along with additional checks to guard against insider threats.”
“When it comes to protecting the flying public, we must do more to vet and screen airport workers for terrorists links,” Nelson said.
The bill would require the TSA to improve vetting of airport employees with access to secure areas by:
- Allowing TSA real-time access to additional terrorism-related databases maintained by the intelligence community and allowing TSA to conduct real-time, continuous criminal records checks through the FBI.
- Expanding use of transportation security officers and inspectors to conduct random physical inspections of airport workers in each secure area of an airport and at each secure area access point.
- Requiring a review of the insider threat posed by airport employees with access to secure areas of domestic airports in light of recent terrorist activity and report back to Congress with recommendations for improving security.
- Updating rules to consider increased fines and direct enforcement requirements related to missing credentials and to enhance the eligibility criteria for access to secure areas.
- Developing and implementing metrics to track secure area rule violations and mistakes.
- Issuing guidance to airport operators requiring them to place an expiration date on airport credentials issued to non-United States citizens to coincide with the time period of their lawful work authorization.
Aviation security expert Jeff Price told NBC 7 Investigates: “I think the challenge in aviation always has been that most of the employees that go into and out of those doors, out to the airfield where aircraft are parked and loaded, they largely go unchecked. Most of the employees do not go through screening checkpoints. This has been a gap in security for a long time. What this does is it introduces some randomness to the process. It introduces the possibility that someone could get caught smuggling something onto the airfield and this is something we have needed for a long time.”
The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote.