Answers to Test Were Given, Say Screeners

From Newsday

Several government security screeners at LaGuardia Airport said that moments before they took a certification test to operate machines that detect bombs in luggage, instructors told them answers to all or most of the questions.

Four screeners interviewed separately described nearly identical scenarios from classes last month: An instructor taught material for several hours and then read and answered a series of 25 multiple-choice questions that were on an exam the screeners took immediately afterward.

“He read the questions right out of the test, word for word, answer for answer,” one screener said, adding that the 25 people in his class wrote down the correct answers on note paper and copied them onto their tests with the instructor out of the room.

A second screener, in a separate class in mid-December, said the instructor stayed in the room during the test but that the exam questions “were the same questions he asked orally just before the test.”

“It was pretty much set up so that you shouldn’t have any way to fail,” said a third screener, who, like all screeners interviewed, asked not to be named, fearing retaliation. “The guy read all 25 questions to you just before he gave the test. To tell you the truth, as he gave the questions, I wrote the answers down, because he read them exactly in order.”

Passing the tests was required for screeners to become certified using machines that detect explosives in checked baggage. All checked baggage was to be checked for explosives starting Dec. 31 in a new federal initiative to strengthen aviation security in response to the Sept. 11 hijackings and attacks.

The screeners’ statements raise questions about the integrity of the training, which the federal government vowed to improve when it took over airport security last year from private companies that were criticized for cutting corners. The comments also underscore concerns raised by government auditors who said the Dec. 31 deadline might not provide enough time to hire and train screeners.

A spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration, which runs airport security, said he found the screeners’ statements “highly suspect.”

“That absolutely would not be done,” spokesman Mark Hatfield said. “It’s counter to training protocols and training ethics and the nature of the program.”

Hatfield said instructors did give answers before exams to a few questions -- “three at most” -- that were deemed flawed because there was more than one possible answer or because it concerned material not covered in class.

TSA officials are looking into the screeners’ statements, trying to locate and talk to instructors and possibly to students.