WASHINGTON — The nation's largest airport baggage and passenger screening company would have to run criminal background checks on employees under a proposal to settle new allegations by federal prosecutors, court papers showed.
In a deal with the Justice Department, Argenbright Holdings Ltd., a unit of Britain's Securicor Group Plc, has agreed to conduct fingerprint checks nationwide on workers not already vetted by federal authorities investigating the company's hiring practices.
The company also would have to remove any employee with a conviction that would disqualify that person from holding a particular job.
The proposal that Argenbright conduct more extensive background checks in the future also is contingent on action by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA would have to make regulatory changes and would have to provide money to airports to buy the fingerprinting equipment, the court papers showed.
The government has moved to dramatically tighten security at U.S. airports after the Sept. 11 hijacking attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Special attention has been paid to securing access to areas around gates as well as near and inside aircraft.
Airport screening operations, which are run by airlines that contract out to private firms, are considered vulnerable in this new high-security era partly because it is a low-wage, high-turnover business.
No law enforcement agency has cited any breach in passenger or baggage screening in connection with the Sept. 11 hijackings of four passenger jets that took off from three airports--Logan in Boston, Newark in New Jersey and Dulles outside Washington.
Atlanta-based Argenbright was fined $1.2 million last October and placed on probation for numerous violations at Philadelphia International Airport, including falsifying records, performing inadequate background checks and hiring airport workers with criminal records.
The U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia alleged this month that Argenbright continued to hire screeners without appropriate background checks or training.
The settlement papers said Argenbright had taken numerous steps to comply with its probation, but had failed earlier this year to "timely perform" audits on whether proper background checks had been done on employees at numerous airports.
The company voluntarily provided that information, the documents showed.
The government wanted the court to revoke Argenbright's probation, but the proposed settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, would extend it for two years, until 2005.