U.S. investigation criticizes airport bag screeners' test

Answers given in advance

questions called `inane'

October 09, 2003|By Thomas Frank | Thomas Frank,NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON - A federal investigation says that when airport screeners were tested on using bomb-detection machines last year, some questions were "simply inane."

The investigation calls the exam process "extremely disturbing" and confirms Newsday reports early this year that screeners were given answers before taking final exams that certified them to operate luggage-bomb detectors.

The testing procedure, said the Homeland Security Department's inspector general, "maximized the likelihood that students would pass." The Transportation Security Administration, created after the Sept. 11 attacks to run airport security, was rushing late last year to train 23,000 screeners and meet a Dec. 31 deadline to check all luggage for bombs.

The TSA said after the Newsday articles that screeners took practice quizzes during a week of classroom training and that almost all of those questions appeared on a final exam.

Homeland Security Inspector General Clark Kent Irvin said, "TSA lost the opportunity to fully evaluate" students and raised a new concern about the tests: "Some questions give away the answer, and others are simply inane."

One question asked, "What is the role of a detonator in an explosion?" Answer: "Creates a small explosion that detonates the main explosive charge."

A multiple-choice question asked why it is important to screen bags for explosives. Possible answers were: Batteries in explosives "could leak and damage other passenger bags"; wires could "cause a short to the aircraft wires"; and the timer's ticking "could worry other passengers." The correct answer: Explosives "can cause loss of lives, property and aircraft."

TSA spokesman Brian Turmail said, "These folks have been thoroughly trained, tested and evaluated." The TSA no longer gives answers before tests.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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