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U.S. Agency Bungled Airport Hiring

LAX and other major facilities move to recheck screeners for criminal backgrounds.

May 16, 2003|Jennifer Oldham | Times Staff Writer

But agency screeners interviewed for this article said references listed on their job applications were not contacted by ChoicePoint until they had been on the job for three months. In addition, the agency required some to have their fingerprints redone, saying it lost them, according to a lead screener at LAX. "'I don't know how you lose electronically taken fingerprints that were scanned into a system on a sophisticated computer," this screener said.

The inefficiency of the background check process has prompted some airport administrators to ask why screeners were allowed to work in security-sensitive areas when their background checks were pending.

In Los Angeles, airport officials did not require the 2,600 screeners to undergo the airport's normal background check process because of assurances from the agency that the employees did not have criminal records.

"Our understanding was that the [agency] was taking responsibility to verify that these people were U.S. citizens and that they were qualified to take jobs, and that included that they didn't have any disqualifying criminal background," said Paul Haney, an airport agency spokesman. LAX officials, "out of an abundance of caution," offered to re-fingerprint all agency employees after several screeners were fired earlier this year, Haney said. The federal agency rejected that idea.

The agency reversed itself last week and agreed to take the airport up on its offer, saying it misunderstood the original request and could see now that LAX only wanted to complete its records and make sure it had fingerprints on file for all agency employees.

"This has nothing to do with the background check process," Turmail said. "It's a request by LAX to fill out paperwork they need for the badging process."

LAX officials dispute that account, saying they are not comfortable that all agency employees working at the world's fifth-busiest airport have undergone criminal checks.

"We believe fingerprinting all [agency] employees is a prudent measure," Haney said. "That will bring about an increase in the overall security of the airport."

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Times staff writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

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