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"5 TSA workers fired, 38 more disciplined after investigation at Florida airport"
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
5 TSA workers fired, 38 suspended at Southwest Florida International Airport
By Ledyard King
The Fort Myers (FL) News Press
WASHINGTON - Five Transportation Security Administration workers at
Southwest Florida International Airport have been fired and another 38
suspended after an internal investigation found they failed to perform
random screenings last year.
The 43, a combination of front-line screeners and supervisors, represent
about 15 percent of the roughly 280 TSA employees at the airport. The number
of workers involved makes it one of the largest disciplinary actions TSA has
taken in its 10-year history, TSA spokesman David Castelveter confirmed.
The workers were notified of their punishment Friday and are being given an
opportunity to appeal, he said. The agency has brought in screeners from
other airports to fill in.
During a two-month period last year, as many as 400 passengers who underwent
routine screening never got additional random checks, Castelveter said.
About 3.8 million passengers departed from the airport last year.
Castelveter said TSA officials were alerted by a fellow employee at the
airport who reported at least one violation during the two-month period. The
agency then conducted its own probe and found other violations.
"That investigation just recently concluded, and those employees that were
involved in these violations were notified of their (punishment) last
Friday," Castelveter said.
Castelveter declined to go into details about security procedures, including
how TSA chooses passengers for additional screening. He did not release the
names of those disciplined but said some are front-line officers who operate
checkpoints and some are supervisors.
Castelveter said it's important to note that every person who flew through
the airport was screened.
"It's the random secondary that did not happen," he said. "At no time was a
traveler's safety at risk and there was no impact on flight operations."
But one aviation security expert said random checks are a crucial part of
the security network, especially because TSA Administrator John Pistole has
shifted from one-size-fits-all screenings to those that focus more on
"If someone is gaming your system and knows pretty well what your procedures
are, they will send agents to try to get things through on the basis that
they can beat the system in place," said Billie Vincent, a former security
director for the Federal Aviation Administration. "The random (check) then
adds an element of unknown to the process, which makes it more difficult to
defeat ... It's an essential part of the process."
As an example of the shift in TSA procedures, the agency allows travelers 12
or younger and 75 or older to keep their shoes on during screening -
although they still may be selected for random checks.
In addition, the agency's PreCheck program, which is expanding to 35
airports this year, allows frequent fliers on certain airlines to provide
more information about themselves and get expedited screening with possible
random checks. At seven airports, pilots in uniform with work identification
can bypass screening and head straight to their planes under a program
called Known Crewmember.
A member of a citizen advisory panel to local airport leader, including Lee
County commissioners, said he hadn't been briefed on the local TSA shake-up.
"I've heard nothing. No notice or anything that we had a problem at the
airport," said Noel Andress, a Pine Island businessman who is chairman of
the Airports Special Management Committee. He's not surprised that he hasn't
heard more: "It's a federal matter."
On Monday night, Southwest Florida International passengers were surprised
to hear about the TSA punishments.
"That's interesting that happened here," said North Naples resident Don
Kirkpatrick, who flew into the Fort Myers airport Monday after a trip to the
East Coast. "When I left a few weeks ago, I thought they didn't do much
security inspections. I was expecting a lot more checks because I had a lot
of electronic wiring."
Peggy Kirkpatrick, Don's wife, believes it's good that TSA is cracking down
"I'd rather have them check than not check," Peggy said.
England natives Chris and Steph Threlfall, who have a home in Fort Myers,
said the TSA firings and suspensions won't stop them from using the airport.
"I love this airport," Steph said. "It's real easy. You come off the plane
and the bags are right there for you."
Florida Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, who chairs the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee, called the episode a "meltdown" by TSA. He
said the incident was similar to others at Honolulu; Charlotte, N.C.; and
Newark, N.J., in which the agency disciplined workers for poor performance.
Mica supports returning many of the government's airport screening duties to
the private sector, which handled security checkpoints before the 2001
Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers said he's anxious to learn more
details of TSA's disciplinary action.
"We need the TSA to do its job and we expect to hear a full disclosure from
the TSA on these actions immediately," he said in a statement.
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