ATLANTA (AP) -- Employers at Atlanta's airport have been allowed to hire workers without completing background security checks because of delays in the process, federal officials said.
In the past, new employees were required to undergo a Transportation Security Administration criminal background check and a security threat assessment, partly because they have access to secure areas.
"To allow for a continuity of operations, TSA has provided airports and airlines with interim regulatory relief," TSA spokesman Jon Allen said in a statement. "At no time was security at risk, and all new employees will still undergo identity verification and be subject to watch list matching."
Changes to a system used to process background checks were implemented nationwide, and the impact of resulting delays varied by airport, the TSA said in a separate statement to The Associated Press. It does not indicate whether other airports were granted the relief given Atlanta's airport, the world's busiest.
In Atlanta, the change allows workers to have security access while their background checks are being processed.
Because of "extended delays" in criminal history records checks and security threat assessment processing, the TSA began allowing employers to hire workers without the completed checks, according to an April 20 memo from the airport informing employers and others of the change. The memo was obtained by WSB-TV, which first reported on the issue.
If a new employee's security threat assessment is rejected or placed in the "do not issue" status, his or her security badge will be deactivated immediately, the memo states.
Security expert Brent Brown of Chesley-Brown Security believes the move could be a potential threat to airports.
"You can't put unsecured people or people that you haven't checked in a secured environment," Brown told WSB. "By that very definition, you've breached security."