Local TSA managers admit Newark airport security has deep-seated security problems
By Steve Strunsky/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
John Hughes/BloombergNewark International Airport in this May 2010 file photo.
NEWARK — Local managers for the Transportation Security Administration on Thursday acknowledged deep-seated security problems, saying “over the course of the past few years, the performance of the TSA here at Newark Liberty International Airport has been on a gradual decline,” according to a document obtained by The Star-Ledger.
The Newark-based managers for the federal TSA acknowledged a series of embarrassing, high-profile lapses have “produced a lack of faith in our ability to provide world class security” in traveler’s minds.
The document, “EWR Commitment to Excellence,” was circulated Thursday among TSA terminal managers, executive staff and more than 100 supervisors during two meetings at the airport. Local TSA managers composed the performance analysis in preparation for the meetings, which were led by TSA Area Director Jim Blair, a senior agency official in charge of airports in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
The document proposes a long list of recommendations — with an emphasis on hiring and enhanced training — to help local TSA management and employees “re-attain our focus, re-gain our confidence, and re-obtain the trust of those above us and more importantly (the trust) of today’s airline passengers.”
Recommendations for improvement include accelerating local hiring to bring staff up to sufficient levels following the implementation last fall of labor-intensive full body scanners.
For better training, managers urged a revamping of scheduling practices to allow more time to conduct training; scheduling eight hours of training per month for each employee, including nights and weekends; followup observations to ensure retention of skills learned during training; and the assignment of trainers to specific checkpoints and other locations to coordinate training and remediation with employees’ supervisors.
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The managers also recommend disciplinary procedures be centralized, with standardized penalties for specific infractions, and the establishment of a local disciplinary administrative team.
The document notes security operations have “slowly diminished over the past few years.”
“Contributing factors to this decline are understaffing, complacency and lack of focus, lack of direction and guidance, insufficient flow of communications, poor physical design of checkpoints, lack of sufficient down time to conduct training, lack of prioritization skills” and other factors.
Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the agency, released a statement Thursday saying: “TSA managers and supervisors had a very productive meeting Thursday led by the Area Director and current TSA EWR leadership.
“Together,” Davis’ statement continued, “they reviewed checkpoint security procedures and discussed recommendations to ensure security lapses like those publicized in recent months will not happen again. TSA managers have taken ownership for these issues and are committed to making any changes necessary to ensure the security of the traveling public, improve workforce morale and increase public confidence in TSA at Newark.”
Blair visited Newark Liberty in February, following at least a half-dozen security breaches at the airport during a six-week period beginning Jan. 2. In one incident, a dead dog was loaded onto a Continental Airlines jet, despite not having been screened by the carrier, and was allowed to continue on its way after Newark’s federal security director, Barbara Bonn Powell, deemed there was insufficient risk to call the flight back.
Thursday’s meetings were a followup to the February visit, with the performance written in response to Blair’s request that Newark’s leadership assess the airport’s problems.
Last month, the TSA’s Office of Inspection in Arlington, Va., dispatched a team to Newark Liberty for the first time ever, Davis confirmed.
Special agents from that office interviewed several Newark employees, some of whom blamed the airport’s failings on Powell. The TSA has defended Powell’s performance.
Davis insisted that Powell, who attended Thursday’s meetings, would remain in charge of Newark’s TSA operations.
Some TSA supervisors who attended the meeting, but requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said they are skeptical that real changes will be implemented.
Separately, New Jersey’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Frank Lautenberg, has called for an investigation of the TSA in Newark by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general.
© 2011 NJ.com. All rights reserved.
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