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"Federal" Screeners begin work

A1FlyBoy

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In an aviation security milestone on Tuesday, the nation's first team of federal screeners began checking airline passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.


The 200 workers at two concourses are the first of an estimated 30,000 passenger and baggage screeners who will work for the new Transportation Security Administration by the end of November.

Congress required the government to overhaul airport security after the Sept. 11 hijack attacks. This included a mandate to replace all passenger and baggage screening operations run by the airlines at more than 420 airports with a federal force.

No law enforcement agency has blamed screeners for the catastrophic hijackings of four commercial jetliners almost eight months ago, but lawmakers considered this aspect of airport security extremely vulnerable.

They wanted to replace the low-wage, high-turnover business with an operation staffed by an army of well-trained civil servants who would make more money than their predecessors and have a clear career path.

Some screeners employed by private security firms may be hired by the government to do the same work.

The first team at BWI will be a temporary, or "mobile force," that initially will work as screeners.

Over the next six weeks that group will rotate through the airport's remaining concourse checkpoints to train other screeners before moving on to other airports.

Each screener will receive a minimum of 40 hours classroom training, five times the amount they received under the previous system run by the airlines. They will also get 60 hours on-the-job training.

The Transportation Department assumed responsibility for airport security from the airlines in February and contracted with third-party services to handle baggage and passenger screening.

The government immediately tightened standards after that but even under federal oversight the system has stumbled at times.

Numerous security breaches at big airport screening checkpoints, including one on Monday in Los Angeles, have disputed airport and flight operations. In some cases, terminal concourses and planes have been evacuated.
 
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