In a move that could affect security at airports around the nation, the Transportation Security Administration confirmed Wednesday it had such a backlog of background security checks, airport employers were allowed to hire any employee needed.
TSA officials said the background checks are delayed, but they are processing them as fast as they can.
TSA also will complete background checks on accepted applicants at a later date.
On Wednesday, Channel 2 obtained a Hartsfield-Jackson International airport internal security memo detailing the policy shift, but the TSA said the policy affects airports across the country. Late Wednesday afternoon, the TSA said the Atlanta backlog was resolved. There was no mention of backlogs around the country.
Before the change, any new employee was required to undergo both a TSA criminal background check and a security threat analysis because of access to certain security areas off limits to civilians.
In a statement from Washington, TSA spokesman Jon Allen said, "The TSA was recently made aware that a newly implemented change to the system used to process airline and airport employee background checks resulted in a delay for requests submitted through the American Association of Airport Executives. The cause of the issue was quickly identified, and TSA and AAAE have worked together to implement a solution."
Allen also said TSA has given airport employers "interim regulatory relief," meaning it's allowing them to hire people without the completed background checks.
"At no time was security at risk, and all new employees will still undergo identity verification and be subject to watchlist matching," said Allen.
Channel 2's Aaron Diamant showed the memo to Georgia U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of Athens.
"This is a joke," said Broun. "This letter shows the incompetence of TSA. It shows that they cannot and are not doing their job they were instructed to do through the law."
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," said Brown. "By that very definition, you've breached security."
Regarding the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, a TSA official said, "TSA has worked closely with the AAAE and the Atlanta Airport to address the delays in processing airport and airline employee background checks. Currently, all requests have been processed and no backlog remains."