A new government investigation uncovers dozens of airport workers were allowed to keep their security badges after ending their employment with the airport.
The report from The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (OIG) is the direct result of a 2015 NBC 5 investigation that found hundreds of airport security badges, known as Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA) badges, are unaccounted for across the country.
The new report, released Wednesday morning, found 62 cases at major airports where badges for former employees were active in the system.
In some cases the companies the people worked for had collected the badges and simply never returned them to the airport. But in other cases, badges were never collected at all – meaning those former employees could have used their badges to get into secure areas of the airport without being subjected to screening by officers with the Transportation Security Administration.
The report made three recommendations to improve TSA's oversight of airport badge controls. Those recommendations include directing TSA personnel to conduct additional tests of access media badge controls during comprehensive and targeted inspections of U.S. airports; issuing guidance to clearly explain how to determine whether an airport's lost, stolen and unaccounted for access media badges are exceeding the 5 percent threshold; and sharing with airport operators the best practices other airports use to mitigate the risks.
In 2015 NBC 5 Investigates discovered more than 1,400 ID badges missing in nation's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. At other airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, NBC 5 Investigates found cases where badges – lost or stolen – had not immediately been reported missing.
As a result of NBC 5's investigation, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general launched an investigation and conducted tests at two dozen airports.
They found some of the airports should have canceled all badges and issued new ones to employees after learning more than 5 percent of the badges had been reported lost, stolen or unaccounted for.
That wasn't happening.
"It could have been a disastrous problem that got us to this point. Fortunately, it was a report, a study that revealed the information that we're talking about today that gives us an opportunity to move forward and make it better," said aviation security expert Larry Wansley.
In a statement to NBC 5, the TSA said the agency agrees "with the recommendations and continues to work with the OIG and aviation industry to strengthen oversight and encourage best practices to better secure identification media."
As a result of NBC 5's reporting, Congress also passed a new law that includes tougher penalties on airports and airport employers who fail to immediately report badges lost or stolen.
The law also requires larger airports to immediately notify the TSA if more than 2 percent of badges are missing.