EXCLUSIVE: State paying $5 million for airport screening that airlines used to pay for

Exclusive: State paying $5 million for airport screening that airlines used to pay for
Published: Feb. 11, 2014 at 8:28 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Transportation is paying $5 million for a baggage screening contract at Honolulu International Airport that airlines used to pay for, Hawaii News Now has learned.

A committee of 21 airlines that use Honolulu Airport had been paying for and managing the screening of checked luggage for explosives under the contract.

But last year state officials in charge of state contracts determined the state transportation department was violating the state procurement code since the screening equipment is owned by the state. The procurement office said the equipment could not be used by a private entity without being sent out to bid.

Ford Fuchigami, the deputy transportation director in charge of airport, said he had to scramble to contract out the service and come up with the money to pay for it.

"Currently we are paying $5 million a year for this contract. Prior to this, we weren't paying a cent. The airlines were picking up that fee at $5 million dollar," Fuchigami said Monday.

He appeared before the Senate Ways and Means committee, asking for an emergency appropriation for that $5 million for the contract that began last December.

Some senators such as Maui's J. Kalani English are frustrated by the situation.

"Our procurement system is so antiquated that it's forcing us to put out to contract something that was put out to contract something that was paid for the airlines' committee," English said. "An ancient procurement system that's based on paper instead of electronics, that's based on some very old rules, is forcing us to cover this $5 million shortfall."

State airports officials are applying for an exemption from the procurement regulations that would allow the airlines to once again pay for and manage the checked-baggage screening system.

If they are unable to obtain a procurement exemption, Fuchigami said the state would start the cumbersome process of billing the airlines for each piece of luggage that's screened to help recoup some of the screening costs.

"If our revenues don't meet our expenses, the airlines under our lease agreement, have to come up with the additional money and this is where this would come into play," Fuchigami told senators.

Three years ago, the Transportation Security Administration tried to fire 36 employees who failed to screen checked luggage for explosives at HNL.  It was the largest mass firing of TSA employees in the agency's history.

But several of them, including top managers, were later reinstated or paid settlements.  The employees complained they lacked proper equipment and could not screen each bag by hand so they allowed some to go through without screening.

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