Firms at Atlanta airport get OK to hire employees without full background checks

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ATLANTA — Employers at Atlanta’s airport have been allowed to hire workers without completing all background security checks because of delays in the process, federal officials said.

In the past, new employees were required to undergo a Transportation Security Administration criminal background check and a security threat assessment.

“To allow for a continuity of operations, TSA has provided airports and airlines with interim regulatory relief,” TSA spokesman Jon Allen said in a statement. “At no time was security at risk, and all new employees will still undergo identity verification and be subject to watch list matching.”

Changes to a system used to process background checks were implemented nationwide, the TSA said in a separate statement to The Associated Press.

Relief from regulations was available to airports that needed it, but not all of them did, Allen said.

The TSA has not indicated how many airports took advantage of the change, or how long employees may work without the full security clearance.

In Atlanta, home of the world’s busiest airport, the change allows workers to have security access while their background checks are being processed.

After “extended delays” in criminal history records checks and security threat assessment processing, the TSA began approving workers for security identification if they had been finger-printed and their information had been submitted for background checks, according to an April 20 memo from the airport informing employers and others of the change.

If a new employee’s security threat assessment is rejected or placed in the “do not issue” status, his or her security badge will be deactivated immediately, the memo states. At some point, the memo states, all must still receive a security threat assessment clearance. The memo was obtained by WSB-TV, which first reported on the issue.

Security expert Brent Brown of Chesley-Brown Security believes the move could be a potential threat to airports.

“You can’t put unsecured people or people that you haven’t checked in a secured environment,” Brown told WSB. “By that very definition, you’ve breached security.”

TSA requires threat assessments to be conducted for all airport and airline employees who require access to secure areas in airports, including baggage workers, ground maintenance workers and restaurant and retail employees, the agency said last year, in announcing new agreements with partners who help screen employees.

In Atlanta, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is preparing to open a new international terminal next month and has been hiring workers for several restaurants, shops and other businesses.


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