Officials grilled over taxpayer dollars used to damper airport security fines

Officials grilled over taxpayer dollars used to damper airport security fines

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Officials grilled over taxpayer dollars used to damper airport security fines

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Lawmakers grilled state officials Tuesday over taxpayer dollars spent to put a damper on airport security fines.
The state worked with a private contractor to hire what they called a “mitigator” to deal with the Transportation Security Administration. Lawmakers say the state paid a hefty premium and question if they got what they paid for.
Slipping up on a Transportation Security Administration rule can cost an airport system dearly. The state’s private contractor explained how to a Senate panel.
“If a guard doesn’t attach a badge it’s a $10,000 fine, we had to build up our team with a higher level of security experts,” said Sanj Sappal with Securitas.

Kauai’s airport sees a fraction of busier airports’ passenger traffic, but the location accounts for the lion’s share of steep TSA fines of nearly $100,000 last year. The Senate Ways and Means Committee grilled transportation officials about why.
“The challenge with TSA in Kauai, to be very honest, is it’s a little bit more of an overzealous force,” said Brian Sekiguchi with the State Department of Transportation. “They may fine the airport for an infraction that any other airport would be considered just a verbal warning.”
But what really caught the panel’s attention was a retired TSA official hired by Securitas at the state’s urging to fix the problem. They called him a mitigator. Securitas paid at a rate of $81,500 a year. The state reimbursed Securitas at a rate of $120,000 a year.

“According to the TSA fines we can’t really show that a whole lot was mitigated,” said Sen. Donna Kim, Chairwoman of the Ways and Means Committee. “The whole year that this person was there, there were fines occurred, there were fines that were not mitigated.”
The state explained its reasoning.
“Before we make any final decision on who’s going to be paying what, we wanted to make sure we had a better handle on exactly what was owed because some things still could be mitigated,” said Brennon Morioka with the State Department of Transportation.

The panel also asked about the status of airport security contract bids — Securitas has been on an extension. The state says they’ll go out for bid next month. Meanwhile the big fines still being sorted out at a small airport have given a private vendor a lot to consider.
“I talked to my corporate counsel. It doesn’t make sense for us to in these contracts. We want to give these contracts back to the state. It’s not worth it, it’s not worth it,” said Sappal.
The automatic extension triggered step up fees of 2%, and then 5% on its contract.
The “mitigator” has since quit.
And the TSA has yet to respond to its Kauai district being called “overzealous.”

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