TSA official testifies on airport security before House panel

TSA Acting Deputy Administrator Mark Hatfield testified before a House subcommittee on Tuesday about airport security. | U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Mark Hatfield, acting deputy administrator for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), testified Tuesday before the House Committee on Homeland Security's subcommittee on Transportation Security about nationwide airport security.

Hatfield said the TSA handles nearly 2 million passengers at 450 airports every day, and that maintaining safe areas after the screening checkpoints, called sterile areas, is a “critical part” of airport operations.

“While the sterile area hosts passengers and air crews waiting for flights, it is also the workplace for vendors, mechanics, ground crew and others employed by the airlines and the airports,” Hatfield said. “Access control is a shared responsibility among many partners, and every airport and airline has a security plan of which access control is an important and necessary element.”

The TSA conducts security background checks for all airport and airline employees through what is called a Secure Identification Display Area badging process, Hatfield said. In December, a Delta Airlines employee allegedly was conspiring to smuggle firearms from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

“To reduce risks exposed by this criminal conspiracy, TSA has implemented a variety of measures and is examining how this case can inform airport security more broadly,” Hatfield said. “TSA has taken immediate steps at ATL to mitigate the insider threat. Under the leadership of TSA officials, a working group was created with representation from various airport authorities, law enforcement  and stakeholders to further develop plans for improving security.”

After a 2011 assessment by the Office of the Inspector General, the TSA implemented a single definition of a security breach. The definition allows for the TSA to identify areas that can improve airport security across the country, Hatfield said.

“TSA plays an important role in partnership with airports and airlines in securing access to our nation’s airports and is committed to fielding responsive, risk-based solutions that can enhance our current security posture,” Hatfield said.

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