WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal agencies responsible for airport security pledged to work on problems with baggage screening machines and security checks for foreign travelers after government watchdogs said improvements are needed.
Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead said Thursday that some machines many airports use to screen checked bags for explosives give off too many false readings. He's investigating to make sure the machines function properly.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman Robert Johnson said the agency is working with the inspector general to evaluate the machines' effectiveness.
``We need to know where we need to improve,'' Johnson said. The government is funding research into better technology to detect explosives, he said.
A separate audit by Justice Department Inspector General Glen A. Fine criticized the Immigration and Naturalization Service for failing to correct significant security deficiencies at airports.
Acting INS Commissioner Michael Garcia issued a statement saying the agency would work closely with the TSA to address problems identified by Fine. He called the audit ``an invaluable tool in improving the safety and security of the traveling public.''
The report, released Thursday, found airports remain vulnerable to illegal entries by foreign travelers, escapes by people detained for questioning and the smuggling of aliens, drugs and other illegal substances.
Fine said the INS has largely failed to implement recommendations aimed at fixing problems first identified in a 1999 audit. These include badly located or inoperable surveillance cameras, the inability to videotape interviews with detainees, alarms that don't work and other security features that were never installed.
``We found that the INS had not even advised its own airport staff of the results of the prior audit,'' the report said. ``Significant and ongoing deficiencies continue to exist at INS airport inspection facilities.''
The Transportation Security Administration is responsible for overall security at commercial airports, but the INS has oversight of foreign travelers.
The TSA was created after the Sept. 11 attacks to take over airport security. Congress gave it until Jan. 1 to begin screening every checked bag at the nation's 429 commercial airports.
The TSA has said it met the mandate, but Mead is reviewing how well the new security procedures are working. At the same time, he praised the TSA for making enormous strides to improve safety, noting only about 5 percent of the roughly 2 million bags checked at airports each day were screened before Sept. 11.
``They did as much as could reasonably be expected,'' Mead told a meeting of the Aviation Safety Alliance. ``There's still an enormous amount of work to do.''
Peter Winch, national organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees that is seeking to unionize TSA workers, said many employees are concerned about the machines' reliability.