WASHINGTON -- On average, only half of the security breaches at six of the country's major airports were reported to and corrected by the Transportation Security Administration during a 16-month period, according to a federal investigation launched after a series of lapses at Newark Liberty International Airport.
According to a report released Monday by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, Newark had the worst record of the six major airports, with only 42 percent of security breaches reported to TSA headquarters from January 2010 to May 2011. The heavily redacted report did not name the other five airports or the number of breaches reported during the period studied.
It did note that the average rate of incidents that were reported and for which corrective or punitive measures were taken was 53 percent. The highest reporting rate for an individual airport was 88 percent. The next best was 61 percent.
The report was prompted by a series of security breaches early last year at Newark Airport that were uncovered by the Newark Star-Ledger. Among the embarrassing incidents revealed, a dead dog in a cardboard box flew on a Los Angeles-bound passenger plane without proper screening for explosives or disease; a carry-on bag containing a knife went through a checkpoint; and a man sneaked past an unguarded checkpoint to kiss his girlfriend, resulting in a six-hour airport shutdown and global delays in air travel.
And those were the reported incidents. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) demanded an investigation after the newspaper wrote that many more breaches were never recorded. He asked investigators to look at the New York metropolitan area's other major airports, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia, as well as comparable airports nationwide.
"While TSA has several programs and initiatives that report and track identified security breaches, TSA does not have a comprehensive oversight program in place to gather information about all security breaches and therefore cannot use the information to monitor trends or make general improvements to security," DHS Assistant Inspector General Anne Richards wrote in the report. "The agency does not provide the necessary guidance and oversight to ensure that all breaches are consistently reported, tracked, and corrected. As a result, it does not have a complete understanding of breaches occurring at the Nation's airports and misses opportunities to strengthen aviation security."
The TSA didn't dispute the inspector general's findings. The agency said it had "taken steps to improve operations at Newark, including a 'Back to Basics' campaign to reinforce procedures" and identify shortcomings and potential solutions. Among those solutions was replacing rope lanes with glass partitions after a January 2010 incident in which a man entered a secure area through the exit lane.
Continental Airlines, which transported the dead dog, may be hit with a civil penalty of $55,000. In other cases, letters of reprimand or suspension for TSA officers were issued.
It was not clear what corrective actions were taken at the other unidentified airports.