Newark Liberty Airport: 4 Screeners Fired and Dozens Suspended For Incompetent Baggage Screening

After a yearlong investigation of lax luggage screening procedures at the Newark Liberty International Airport and nearly six months of due process hearing, the Transportation Security Administration dismissed four of its employees and suspended numerous others. Six of the 19 initially-suspended employees were exonerated because they were misidentified during the screening process. The case for one employee is still under review.

In 2011, the airport initiated a probe as a result of numerous reports of items being stolen from checked luggage in a baggage screening room inside Terminal B. This soon broadened into an investigation of lax baggage screening led by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA’s parent agency.

With the help of hidden cameras, the TSA caught dozens of screeners failing to physically search bags that had been flagged during the X-ray screening. The investigators also accused managers and supervisors of failing to ensure that bags were being searched properly. The implicated employees range from entry-level transportation screening officers, or TSOs, to the airport's TSA leadership team.

Part of an overreaching project targeting under-performing employees, this series of dismissals and suspensions constitutes one of the biggest disciplinary actions the TSA has undertaken. The TSA has given this case high leverage because the Newark airport has a history of high-profile security breaches. A few weeks ago, an undercover inspector managed to get through two security checkpoints while carrying a fake bomb in his pants. The inspector was then cleared to get on to the plane. Events like this one point to security lapses at the airport and call for better implementations of security procedures. One of the planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 took off from Newark.

The TSA was created following September 11, 2001, to strengthen the security of the U.S.'s transportation system and to regulate the freedom of movement for people and commerce. The organization today screens all commercial airline passengers and baggage. One of the key aims of the TSA is to maintain the security of the travelling public.

The TSA is committed to improving the performance of its employees. "Accountability is an important aspect of our work and TSA takes prompt and appropriate action with any employee who does not follow procedures or engages in misconduct," Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a statement. "TSA can assure travelers that measures have been in place to ensure bags on flights out of Newark are properly screened since TSA first learned of this situation in December 2011."

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Desi Petkova

Student at Columbia University, currently double majoring in Architecture and Economics-Philosophy

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