TSA responds to Inspector General over badge concerns

A recent report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) faulted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for control of identification credentials, personnel badges and even TSA employee uniforms. According to the report (see previous story on OIG report), the OIG found that the TSA was lacking centralized control for ensuring that badges, IDs and security passes, as well as the uniforms, were being managed and returned when employees left the organization. According to a report from the USA Today newspaper, the badges were retained after employment. That presented a unique security risk in that these badges -- if only used as a flash-pass -- could potentially be used for access to airport secure areas.

The TSA, however, responded to the OIG yesterday saying that the report "overstates the deficiencies and associated security risk." The TSA said the risk is now "negligible." Read the TSA response to the OIG below:

TSA Response to Inspector General Report on Badges, IDs and Uniforms -- October 13, 2008

The objective of a recently issued DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit was to determine whether TSA had policies, procedures and internal controls to manage and safeguard airport security badges, uniforms and identification cards for its employees. For this audit, which commenced last year, OIG investigators visited five airports, where they interviewed TSA and airport operator personnel and observed airport operations.

TSA believes the report, which was completed several months ago, overstates the deficiencies and associated security risk, but shares the OIG's interest in improving processes and procedures. To that end, TSA has already made significant strides in addressing all of the OIG recommendations. As a result, any risk of unauthorized use of uniforms, ID cards, and Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges has been reduced to a negligible concern.

It is important to note that possession of a TSA uniform or even a TSA employee ID badge will not allow someone access to all areas of an airport. The uniform and employee ID only indicates that the ID holder is employed by TSA.

On the issue of SIDA badges, which are only issued to TSA and airport employees that require access to sterile areas of the airport, TSA has followed the OIG recommendations to close any potential security gaps. While management of SIDA badges is the airport's responsibility, TSA has now assumed the responsibility of collecting SIDA badges as a part of the employee exit clearance process, and civil penalties may be levied against non-compliant employees. And since SIDA badges are only given to employees that require access to the sterile area of the airport (beyond the checkpoint), TSA does not issue SIDA badges to every officer.

While TSA has more than 43,000 security officers in airports nationwide, each airport has teams and shifts of employees working regular shifts who trained to look for threats and things that don't look right. If a former employee or someone impersonating an officer showed up at a checkpoint or a sterile area of an airport, they would be subject to the eyes and ears of on-duty officers and random employee screening throughout the airport.

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