Airports cope with workers' security check delays

/ Source: The Associated Press

Employers at some U.S. airports are being allowed to hire workers without completing all background security checks because of a backlog in the screening process, federal officials said.

The backlog and resulting relief granted to airports was first reported by WSB-TV in Atlanta, which obtained a memo from airport officials outlining the Transportation Security Administration directive. The memo was sent from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport officials on April 20 to airlines and contractors there. It says workers can be granted access to certain parts of the airport before their checks are finished.

"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."

The agency did not say how many airports have taken advantage of the change and given workers preliminary clearance, nor how long employees can work without full security clearance. The memo sent at Atlanta's airport — the world's busiest — did say that all employees must eventually be given full security clearance, and those who fail the check will immediately have their clearance revoked.

Employees can begin working so long as they have been fingerprinted and their information has been submitted for background checks, according to the memo.

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 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.