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Little Change Expected as Feds Take Over Airport Security

By Stephen S. Chapman
Capital News Service
Friday, Feb. 15, 2002

WASHINGTON - Travelers are not likely to notice any changes when security at Baltimore/Washington International Airport comes under federal regulation Sunday. 

While the new Transportation Security Administration will be responsible for security, it is simply taking over existing security contracts for the time being. It will still be the same private-sector employees working the same screening devices for the next few months. 

The TSA will assume control of airport screening contracts at 12:01 a.m. Sunday at all 429 of the nation's commercial airports. It is just the first step toward a goal of having federal workers providing security at all of the airports by Nov. 19, one of the major changes to come in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

"This is a deliberate, planned, incremental improvement process," U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Michael P. Jackson said Thursday. "We're better this week than we were a month ago." 

BWI spokeswoman Harriett Sagel said travelers should not notice any changes Sunday. The only difference they will see Monday is the construction on concourse C, as the airport adds more scanners to help lines move more quickly. 

Jackson said the transition from private to federal security "is not intended to be a dramatic event in terms of the public's perception, but is a very significant effect in our work towards bringing enhanced security to America's aviation system." 

Officials with the new Transportation Security Administration fanned out across the country Friday to meet with airport officials and plan for Sunday's transition. The next step is for the government to renegotiate existing security contracts through November, when private screeners are scheduled to be replaced with federal workers. 

Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, all current airport screeners will have to reapply for their positions if they want stay on. In order to be hired as federal workers, they will have to be U.S. citizens, have a high school diploma, be able to pass a background investigation, and pass the Federal Civil Aviation Security Screener Aptitude test. 

The citizenship requirement alone could disqualify 25 percent of the current workers, according to one estimate. 

The TSA estimates it will need 25,000 to 27,000 employees to fill the positions. Salaries are expected to rise from about $15,000 now to about $35,000 per year. President Bush included $4.8 billion in his fiscal 2003 budget to pay for the transition. 

Aviation groups said the changes are long overdue. 

Airlines have been urging the government to take over the screening process for the past 30 years, said John Meenan, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines. 

John Mazur, a spokesman for the Airlines Pilots Association, said federalizing airport security is "going to make a tremendous difference." 

"Though it's going to take the TSA awhile to phase these plans in, once they accomplish their goals we're confident the system will improve," Mazur said. 

BWI is one of 15 airports nationwide, large and small, that have been selected as testing grounds for the new stiffer security standards. In addition to assuming control of the private security contracts at BWI, government transportation officials and private consultants will study how the airport manages its security. 

"They'll look at the security that goes on here and see how they can improve upon it," Sagel said. 

Besides BWI, other airports in the program include Anchorage, Alaska; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Boston; Chicago O'Hare; Dallas; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Louisville, Ky.; Minneapolis; Mobile, Ala.; New York Kennedy; Orlando, Fla., San Francisco; and Spokane, Wash.

Copyright 2002 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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