Federal Inspectors Find Lapses in Security at Vineyard Airport
By JAMES KINSELLA
Gazette Senior Writer
A federal inspection last November found lapses in security at the Martha's Vineyard Airport.
Among the findings: the airport was unable to account for keys issued for vehicle and pedestrian gates that provide access to the air operations area and secured areas at the airport.
In a Dec. 16 letter to airport manager Sean Flynn, the Transportation Security Administration said it was investigating circumstances surrounding the failure of the airport to comply with a number of federal security rules. The letter was based on an annual agency inspection conducted Nov. 28 and 29.
The letter also stated that the airport had not conducted an audit of its identification badge system in more than a year, that unaccounted badges reached more than five per cent of the total, and that the airport had failed to train some employees who received identification badges.
The author of the letter, George Naccara, the federal security director at Logan International Airport in Boston, said Wednesday that security conditions had improved at the airport.
"We have two people out there today," he said. "They met with the director. They're very satisfied with what they saw."
But Mr. Flynn did not inform the airport commission, which supervises him, of the November inspection by federal security officials until earlier this month. The airport commission has not met since Jan. 5 for lack of a quorum.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Flynn said that the security agency had instructed him not to comment on anything concerning the inspection. "Essentially, we've been gagged," he said.
The news of the security lapses and the subsequent letter to Mr. Flynn surfaced this week after a former airport commissioner, T.J. Hegarty, had sent a Freedom of Information Act request to Mr. Flynn that asked about airport interactions with the security agency. In a Feb. 9 letter to Mr. Hegarty, Mr. Flynn wrote that he did not receive a copy of the Dec. 16 federal letter until Feb. 8.
In the letter Mr. Flynn also wrote that the issues raised by the federal agency either had been resolved or that further discussion was required for resolution.
At no point did Mr. Flynn tell the airport commission at a commission meeting about the inspection. Inspectors typically would meet with the airport manager before concluding an inspection, Mr. Naccara said.
On Nov. 28 and 29, when the inspection was conducted, Mr. Flynn was acting airport manager. The following Saturday, the airport commission interviewed him and other finalists for the permanent manager's post. On Dec. 7 the commission voted 4-3 to name Mr. Flynn the permanent manager. On Jan. 5 the commission approved an employment contract with Mr. Flynn.
Mr. Naccara said the security lapses and problems at the Vineyard airport were "not that far out of the ordinary. They need to be dealt with right away. Typically, the actions are taken in a day."
Mr. Flynn released a copy of the security agency's letter in response to a freedom of information request dated Feb. 2 by Mr. Hegarty.
Mr. Hegarty sent copies of his information request to John Alley, an airport commissioner and chairman of the Dukes County Commission, as well as to county manager E. Winn Davis.
Both Mr. Alley and Mr. Davis said Tuesday they were unaware of any security agency inspection at the Vineyard airport until Mr. Flynn responded to Mr. Hegarty's information request.
Mr. Alley said that a security agency official had told him that he could not discuss details of the Dec. 16 letter. He said he gave the official his word he would not do so.
"Yes, there is an ongoing investigation between the TSA and the Martha's Vineyard airport," Mr. Alley said Tuesday. "Unfortunately, I cannot comment any further on it."
In the Dec. 16 letter, Mr. Naccara said the security agency was investigating the circumstances surrounding the failure of the airport to comply with a number of federal security rules, including:
* Carrying out provisions of its approved airport security program.
* Training each individual before granting unescorted access to secured areas and secured identification display areas, where identification badges must be visible.
* Conducting, at a minimum, an annual audit of the identification system.
* Revalidating identification badges if badges are lost, stolen or not accounted for.
* Maintaining a record of training individuals.
* Ensuring that only individuals authorized to have unescorted access to the secured area can gain entry.
The letter gave Mr. Flynn the opportunity to respond. "Your statement should include all pertinent facts and any extenuating or mitigating circumstances that you feel may have a bearing on this incident," Mr. Naccara wrote.
Martin Ward, a senior attorney with the security agency in Boston, declined to comment on the ongoing Vineyard case.
Speaking generally about how the process works, Mr. Ward said Mr. Naccara had issued what is known as a letter of investigation. Mr. Ward said such letters are not uncommon, though they more typically are issued to airlines than airports.
A variety of outcomes are possible after the investigation letter is issued, Mr. Ward said.
One is a letter of correction, which finds that the situation has been corrected and that agency does not intend to pursue the matter. Another is a warning notice, a more strongly worded letter, but one that does not involve a fine.
The third is a notice of a proposed civil penalty. That penalty can total $10,000 for an airport and $25,000 for an airline. The recipient may reduce or eliminate any fine following a settlement discussion with a security agency attorney.
The recipient also can choose to bring the matter before a Coast Guard administrative law judge, where the agency must prove its case. The recipient can challenge both the merits of the case and the penalty. The judge would determine whether the agency has proven its case and what, if any, sanction should be applied against the recipient.
"What we want is to get people to comply," Mr. Ward said.