Commerce Committee Approves Legislation to Tighten Screening for Airport Workers

December 9, 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) the chair and ranking member of the Aviation Subcommittee today voted in committee to approve S. 2361, the Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act, which they jointly introduced. The measure was approved on a bipartisan voice vote.

“To secure sensitive airport areas, access must be limited to properly credentialed airport employees who have been thoroughly vetted and follow the rules,” said Thune. “The Airport Security Enhancement and Oversight Act provides enhanced tools for oversight and vetting of personnel along with additional checks to guard against insider threats.”

“When it comes to protecting the flying public, we must do more to vet and screen airport workers for terrorists links,” said Nelson. 

The bill requires the Transportation Security Administration to:

- Enhance the eligibility requirements and improve vetting of airport employees with access to secure areas by:

  • Allowing TSA real-time access to additional terrorism-related databases maintained by the intelligence community; and
  • Allowing TSA to conduct real-time, continuous criminal records checks through the FBI;

- Expand the use of transportation security officers and inspectors to conduct enhanced, random, and unpredictable physical inspections of airport workers in each secure area of an airport and at each secure area access point; 

- Conduct a review of the insider threat posed by airport employees with access to secure areas of domestic airports in light of recent terrorist activity and report back to Congress with recommendations for improving security;

- Update rules to enhance the agency’s strategic oversight and to consider increased fines and direct enforcement requirements related to missing credentials and to enhance the eligibility criteria for access to secure areas;

- Conduct expanded red team, covert testing of access controls to secure areas of an airport, in addition to independent testing;

- Develop and implement metrics to track secure area rule violations and mistakes;

Periodically review TSA security directives to identify gaps and redundancies created by piecemeal additions to security protocols;

- Issue guidance to airport operators requiring them to place an expiration date on airport credentials issued to non-United States citizens commensurate with the time period of their lawful work authorization.

Passage of S. 2361 follows bipartisan oversight efforts into airport security concerns including letters sent to the TSA by committee leaders in March and May in response to security failures. Click here for a copy of S. 2361 and here for an amendment offered by Sen. Nelson that was approved on a voice vote. The bill is now set for Senate floor consideration.