- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Federal workers now screen airline passengers at all of the nation's 429 commercial airports, Transportation Department officials announced yesterday as they celebrated their success in meeting today's deadline imposed by Congress.
"We did it," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said during a ceremony at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
However, he warned the next deadline would be even more difficult under the year-old law that created new security requirements. By Dec. 31, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is supposed to have equipment and 20,000 employees at the nation's airports to screen all baggage for bombs.
"That is our toughest and most expensive goal," Mr. Mineta said.
Congress is expected this week to extend the bag-search deadline by one year because of obstacles created by high costs of bomb-detection equipment and logistics. The extension was included in the Homeland Security bill approved by the House last week. The Senate is expected to vote this week.
Beginning with a work force of 13 employees in January, the TSA hired 44,000 screeners in what Mr. Mineta called "the largest peacetime mobilization in American history."
All but 1,800 are federal employees. The others work for private companies contracted and trained by the federal government.
Along the way to today's deadline, the agency encountered recruiting problems, criticism about whether its $6 billion annual budget was spent wisely and complaints about a lack of collective bargaining for workers.
Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, called the TSA a bloated agency that used screeners ineffectively.
Mr. Rogers, chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, used the example of Kentucky Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, which he uses on flights home from Washington. He said a typical screener at the airport checks four passengers per hour.
Others say the federalized screeners are an improvement over the private screeners who staffed airports prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, which prompted Congress to create the TSA and set deadlines for improving security.
"It's a definite improvement in security," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, an advocacy group for passengers. "These people are better trained, more professional and more dedicated than the private screeners, many of whom were minimum-wage workers."
Tom Ridge, Homeland Security director, responded to skeptics yesterday who doubted the TSA would meet today's congressional deadline for staffing all airports with federal screeners.
"We are here today to prove them wrong," Mr. Ridge said during the ceremony at Reagan Airport's Terminal A.
He also predicted terrorists would try to strike the United States again. "Today is a milestone, but it is not an ending," Mr. Ridge said.
In the last year, the TSA says screeners have stopped 932 guns and 915,788 knives from being carried onto airplanes.
The effort to tighten security turned up glaring oversights at airports, such as screeners many with limited English skills who overlooked weapons or were unqualified.
Last week, federal agents arrested 21 Newark Liberty International Airport workers who reportedly used forged Social Security numbers and immigration documents to get jobs at the airport. Although none are terrorist suspects, the employees had access to aircraft, baggage-handling areas and the international terminal.
The TSA requires all federalized screeners to be American citizens.
Starting salaries for federalized screeners range between $23,600 and $35,400, and include health care, life insurance and vacation leave. Many private screeners earned about $15,000 per year.
The federalized screeners receive 44 hours of classroom training, 60 hours of on-the-job training and opportunities for advancement.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport was the nation's first to have a completely federalized work force of screeners. They took over from private companies April 30. The TSA now uses BWI as a test facility for security procedures.
"To have National and Dulles also completed should make everyone feel safer," BWI spokesman John White said.
If Congress does not extend the Dec. 31 deadline for bag searches, TSA officials said they would meet the goal, even if passengers are inconvenienced.
James Loy, TSA director, said airline passengers might see bomb-detection equipment "inelegantly placed in lobbies" in the rush to meet the deadline. The electronic equipment would be supplemented by bomb-sniffing dogs and human search techniques.
He refused to give details, saying, "Certainly, I will not describe a path for the terrorists."
Passengers at Reagan Airport yesterday said they noticed few changes in security.
"I couldn't tell any difference," said Fred Shaffer, an industry lobbyist from Neenah, Wis.
Another traveler from Wisconsin who did not want to give her name said the federal screeners seem to be more vigilant with the same techniques used before they were hired.
"They're searching more people and X-raying more bags, which is probably a good thing," she said.


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