FAA agents helped skew checks on airport security Results were overstated, government audit reports

September 14, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A newly issued government report on the Federal Aviation Administration's inspections of airport security says that in some cases FAA agents overstated how well airports performed and made efforts to help airlines do well on the inspections.

The report on an audit conducted at 26 airports by the inspector general of the Department of Transportation found that some FAA agents reported test results in a way that made the airports seem more secure than the tests had shown them to be.

And in evaluating the airlines, the report said that some FAA agents "did not use realistic testing methods" and were trying "to give the air carrier every opportunity to pass."

In the same study, agents from the inspector general's office made their own efforts to evaluate security at the nation's major airports.

Government officials familiar with the report say the inspector general's agents were able to sneak fake bombs, disarmed hand grenades, guns and knives through metal detectors, and in some cases onto airplanes, far fewer times than in a 1993 study.

The problems with the FAA's own inspections had not been known until now.

The inspector general's report does offer clear praise for the FAA, saying that the agency's testing procedures have improved significantly since the 1993 report, the inspector general's last on this subject. In a measure of how poor the FAA's security evaluations were in 1993, the report notes that this time, the agents did actually find security problems in some cases.

"Contrary to previous, less aggressive inspections, FAA found some air carriers and airports were not complying with security measures as required," the report noted.

Seizing on this part of the report and ignoring the other findings, the FAA issued a press release saying the agency was "very pleased that the IG has recognized its efforts."

Yesterday, Mark S. Hess, an FAA spokesman, said, "We're not quibbling with the report." He described it as "over all, fairly positive," but added, "I think we agree that in those instances where it looks like we could tighten things up, be more aggressive, that's what we've asked our people to do."

The release of the report comes as the government is focusing serious attention on the problem of airport security as a result of the crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800. Though they have not been able to prove it, investigators believe the plane was brought down by a bomb smuggled onto the airplane.

The report was prepared during the tenure of A. Mary Schiavo, who as inspector general was often highly critical of the FAA. She frequently charged that the agency was too close to the airlines and was often unwilling to take tough actions against them.

Schiavo resigned in July after clashing with the FAA over safety standards. Her successor, Acting Inspector General Joyce N. Fleischman, said she considered the fact that the FAA had LTC developed procedures to test airport security to be "a major step forward" for the agency, even if the procedures were not always followed.

"They know what they're looking for and they know how to test for it," Fleischman said. "The problem that we did see is that some of the FAA special agents did not carry out the testing protocols as well as they might have."

Fleischman said she did not know why some FAA agents in the study appeared to be helping airlines and airports get better scores.

"I don't know what these people were thinking," she said. "I suspect they were used to doing things in a certain way and they continued to do that. I'm very hopeful that our work on this audit will change that behavior."

In the audit, conducted in late 1995, agents from the inspector general's office accompanied FAA agents and watched them as they tested airline and airport security in different ways.

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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