TSA to test 100 percent employee screening

Travelers have long been subjected to 100 percent screening before entering the "secure side" of an airport, and now it seems, the TSA is starting to become interested in screening airport employees as well.

Whether it was the 2007 threat against the Boston Logan airport fuel depots, the issue at the Orlando airport when employees were caught trying to smuggle guns and drugs on planes, or just a general concern about aviation security, the TSA announced on Monday that it would be testing 100 percent employee screening.

The move from the TSA follows the Omnibus Appropriations Act that was passed last month by Congress. That legislation ordered the TSA to take three airports and evaluate 100 percent employee screening. The act also requires the TSA test alternative employee screening models at some four other airports.

The airports impacted by the test on employee screening include Boston Logan International, Denver International, Jacksonville International, Kansas City International, Eugene, Southwest Oregon Regional and North Carolina's Craven Regional airport.

The airports are then divided up into three groups:

Boston Logan International will be doing 100 percent perimeter screening of employees, a program that will require screening of airport employees at perimeter access points. Biometrics-based access control will be used in the Boston test.

Craven Regional and Jacksonville International will be testing a model for 100 percent checkpoint screening, where employees are fed through from non-secure public areas to the secure areas of the airport.

The other four airports will be testing out what the TSA is calling "enhanced security screening." That program involves random screening tied with employee security awareness training, portable screening equipment, and behavior detection programs. On top of that, Denver International will be adding biometric access control.

Boston Logan already has the process moving. The airport began working towards its test for 100 percent employee screening back in June of last year.

The possibility of 100 percent employee screening is in sharp contrast to TSA's current security activities, which typically involves random screening and the occasional "surge" inspection that increase the number of screenings. The agency also relies heavily on its access control badge program and a security threat assessment on the employee before badge issuance.

Funding for the pilot programs was $15 million, and the TSA is expected to report back on findings by Sept. 1, 2008. The pilot programs are required to be in place for a minimum of 90 days at each airport.

The push for 100 percent employee screening is often criticized, and even TSA's Kip Hawley has not typically expressed great favor for such a program. On March 26, 2007, Aviation Week magazine published comments from Hawley endorsing the existing layered, random approach, rather than turning toward 100 percent screening.