Monday, January 30, 2012

TSA baggage screener likely to be fired over security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport

A baggage screener at Newark Liberty International Airport who failed to do his job last month is likely to be dismissed, while six others have been relieved of their duties under a crackdown intended to improve security, TSA and union representative said Sunday.

The veteran Transportation Security Administration employee failed to adequately check two bags on Dec. 22 after they had raised red flags, causing two planeloads of luggage to be unloaded and rescreened, TSA said. The failure was spotted immediately, the TSA said at the time, and the bags never made it onto an aircraft.

Last month’s incident followed a string of security lapses at Newark Liberty last year that led to the replacement of the airport’s federal security director. And an investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s office is ongoing.

The other six employees are being investigated for failing to follow procedures, according to Stacy Bodtmann, an official with Local 2222 of the American Federation of Government Employees union, which represents TSA workers.

TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein declined to comment on any of the screeners’ cases. But she issued a statement reiterating the TSA’s commitment to "the highest level of security for the traveling public."

"TSA routinely tests security operations to ensure that protocols are being followed and investigates any indication of misconduct," the statement read. "TSA takes immediate action when our high standards aren’t met. TSA also utilizes a number of measures to ensure protocols are being followed, including closed circuit video surveillance, random inspections and covert tests, as well as peer and management oversight."

Bodtmann identified the screener in the Dec. 22 incident as Kujuanne McNiel, a New Jersey resident employed by TSA since 2002. Bodtmann said TSA proposed dismissing McNiel following a disciplinary hearing soon after the incident. She said McNiel contested the proposal and a final determination is likely this week. McNiel could not be reached for comment.

Bodtmann said any failures involving the six other screeners were likely the result of poor or insufficient training under Newark’s ousted federal security director, Barbara Bonn Powell, who was replaced by Donald Drummer.

"It has a lot to do with the training," Bodtmann said. "It has a lot to do with the management, it has a lot to do with the supervisors, it has a lot to do with being short staffed."

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