Rockefeller, Hutchison, Dorgan, DeMint Send Bipartisan Letter Expressing Concern Over Airman Certificate Vetting Process

December 16, 2009

SCom: AviationWASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, joined with Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison and Senators Byron L. Dorgan, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security, and Jim DeMint, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security, to send a bipartisan letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding recent reports of individuals with connections to terrorism or criminal activities holding valid Airman Certificates.  

The text of the letter follows:
December 14, 2009
The Honorable Richard L. Skinner
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Mr. Skinner:
Several recent media reports have highlighted the fact that individuals with connections to terrorism and other criminal activities hold valid Airman Certificates issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  These reports are disturbing, and suggest that people who are believed to pose security threats to our nation continue to have ready access to aircraft and airport facilities.  Given these reports, we are asking you to examine how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) vets the names of individuals holding valid Airman Certificates and what actions TSA takes when it determines that a person holding a valid certificate presents a security threat.           
Under a law Congress passed shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the TSA is responsible for vetting the FAA’s Airmen Registration Database (ARD) for individuals who pose a threat to transportation security.  While it is our understanding that TSA and FAA have been collaborating since 2001 to vet the ARD for potential security threats, there appear to be weaknesses in the vetting system.  Some individuals with terrorist connections have apparently gone undetected by TSA’s vetting, while in other cases, security threats who have been identified during the vetting process have not lost their certification.  We are aware that FAA and TSA have recently implemented a new vetting procedure that may correct many of the earlier shortcomings, but we still have concerns about the effectiveness of this process.    
Given these concerns, we request that your office conduct a study of the Airmen Certificate vetting system.  Specific questions we would like you to address include:


  1. Is the current vetting process used by the FAA and TSA sufficient to detect individuals known to be threats to national security or transportation security, and to ensure that they no longer have a valid airman certificate?  
  2. Are there weaknesses in the vetting coordination process between the FAA and the TSA that need to be addressed?
  3. Are there additional agencies that should be included in the vetting process, that are not involved currently?
  4. Does the process use the appropriate technology to match names on the ARD to names on other terrorist screening databases used by TSA and/or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to identify individuals that pose a threat to national security or transportation security?
  5. Are TSA and/or DHS matching the ARD against the appropriate terrorist screening databases in order to identify individuals known to be threats to national security or transportation security?
_______________________________                            ______________________________
U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV                         U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Committee Chairman                                                  Committee Ranking Member
_______________________________                            ______________________________
U.S. Senator Byron L. Dorgan                                    U.S. Senator Jim DeMint
Subcommittee Chairman                                           Subcommittee Ranking Member