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2001-10-15

As Congress Considers Federalizing Airport Screeners, the Nation’s Largest Airport Security Company Is Accused of Massive Security Violations

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia has accused the nation’s largest airport security company of failing to conduct proper background checks, hiring people with criminal backgrounds to staff airport checkpoints, and lying to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Argenbright Security, an Atlanta-based company, pleaded guilty last October to falsifying the criminal background checks of its employees at Philadelphia International Airport, a lapse that led to more than a dozen people with criminal backgrounds working at the security checkpoints. One screener had been arrested 23 times. (Screeners are posted at airport security checkpoints, where they operate X-ray machines and metal detectors and perform searches.) Argenbright was fined $1.6 million, put on probation and ordered to clean up its internal problems. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia said Thursday that shoddy background checks persisted at 13 airports.

The charges come at a time of alarm over airport security. Congress is deciding whether to make screeners federal employees or to continue use of private companies such as Argenbright but with new federal controls, new training requirements and much higher pay for screeners. The Senate voted last week to federalize screeners at major airports while the House Republican leadership prefers a private enterprise solution.

The Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, has called for the nationalization of airport security, and President Bush is asking Congress to let the federal government take over the background checks of airport screeners.

The Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix just told Argenbright to leave. Argenbright’s starting pay there was $6.75 per hour, a wage rivaled by fast-food restaurants. Several current and former employees say the low standards and poor-quality technology have created a security screen that is more cosmetic than effective.

Guest:

  • John Pease assistant U.S. attorney

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