Should airport workers go through the screener?

An airport screener

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: A fourth suspect in the alleged plot to blow up fuel tanks at New York's John F. Kennedy airport turned himself in to officials in Trinidad today.

Since one of the other three had been a baggage-handler at JFK, today Congress began looking at ways to improve the screening of the one million people who work at the nation's airports. The House Appropriations Committee is likely to approve a pilot program to check employees at seven airports for weapons.

Which isn't regularly done already.

From Washington, Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


JOHN DIMSDALE: Nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks, North Carolina Democratic Congressman David Price says there's not enough scrutiny of airport employees.

DAVID PRICE: This is a fairly spotty process right now — randomly screening individual employees, having some cameras around, doing the background checks. But we've had a number of members who think we should at least run some pilot projects that indicate how it would work to have a more thorough screening process.

Price is chairman of the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, which last month added $5 million to the president's budget for a temporary program of screening airport workers for weapons. Some airport managers worry that checking every employee every day might cause delays.

Debby McElroy at the Airports Council International says other methods need to be checked out.

DEBBY MCELROY: Behavior recognition, deployment of technology, biometrics where you better control access. Focusing on one measure may not provide the best level of security and may have some operational disruption.

McElroy says a more robust screening program is likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But airport security consultant Douglas Laird says other countries do it.

DOUGLAS LAIRD: There's been all sorts of problems with airport employees smuggling guns, drugs and so forth into the secure part of an airport. And the only way to stop that is to have a multi-layered approach. And one of those layers, of course, would be to actually screen everyone.

The Homeland Security budget bill heads to the full House next week.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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