Government oversight officials informed Congress on Wednesday that the Transportation Security Administration continues to operate in disarray, failing to record basic security details for thousands of employees and not tracking official IDs and badges that allow access to the most sensitive areas of an airport.
Lawmakers described the security agency as operating "in chaos" and expressed frustration with Obama administration officials as they informed the House Oversight Committee about a range of security shortfalls that continue to endanger the nation’s 450 commercial airports.
TSA’s inability to properly screen and track employees has been well documented for years. However, the administration has failed to enact multiple reforms aimed at tightening security and making it more efficient, lawmakers said.
TSA still cannot verify their employees’ criminal histories and immigration statuses, according to disclosures made by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.
"Even 15 years" since the 9/11 terror attacks, "we still see a system that has not complied with the laws we have passed multiple times … and we see failures," said Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), chair of the House Transportation Subcommittee.
Following the discovery last year of 73 aviation employees who also were listed on the nation’s terror watch list, TSA has struggled to implement reforms aimed to remedy these security gaps, Mica said.
"TSA employees are not properly vetted," he said. "We’ve found that tens of thousands of incomplete records are even lacking full names. They [TSA] had 14,000 immigrants listed in the database that did not have alien registration numbers and 75,000 of these records lacked passport numbers. This is not acceptable."
Officials additionally could not account for "hundreds and thousands of IDs" that had gone missing, including TSA security badges, airport identity badges, and officer identification.
"Everything you can imagine stolen, or missing, or unaccounted for," Mica said. "Here we are in 2016, 15 years after 9/11, and we don’t know who’s going in and who’s going out. There’s no way to ensure it."
John Roth, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general, provided a list of security flaws and inefficiencies in the TSA’s employee screening process.
In addition to still not having full access to the U.S. terror watch list, TSA is incapable of verifying employees’ criminal records.
"TSA is considerably challenged when it comes to verifying workers’ criminal histories and immigration status," Roth said. "TSA does not recurrently vet airport workers’ criminal histories after they are initially cleared to work, but rely on individuals to self-report disqualifying crimes."
Most employees do not follow this policy, he said.
"TSA cannot systematically determine whether individuals have been convicted of disqualifying crimes," Roth said, noting that commercial airports also do not hold onto these records. "Due to the large workload involved, this inspection process looked at as few as one percent of all aviation workers applications."
Additionally, the records TSA uses for vetting individuals is "not reliable, as it contains incomplete or inaccurate data," Roth said.
At least 87,000 active aviation workers, or 10 percent of the total workforce, do not have social security numbers listed in their records, according to Roth.
An additional 75,000 active employee credentials listed the worker as a non-U.S. citizen but did not include passport numbers. Of that number, 14,000 workers also did not list an alien registration number, meaning they could potentially be undocumented.
"TSA did not have appropriate checks in place to reject records from such vetting," Roth said. "Without complete and accurate info TSA risked credentialing and providing unescorted access to secure airport areas for a worker who could potentially harm the nation’s air transportation system."