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TIA to lose few screeners in 3,000-job cut

The Transportation Security Administration has already cut 6,000 jobs. A budget reduction is the cause of recent cuts.

By JEAN HELLER
Published September 18, 2003

TAMPA - With great fanfare, the federal government announced in November that it had met the deadline for hiring a new national force of 55,600 airport security screeners.

In the next 10 months, the focus turned to getting rid of many of them. The first 3,000 positions were eliminated last spring. Another 3,000 went out the door during the summer.

On Wednesday, a top official of the Transportation Security Administration, the agency for which the screeners work, told a group of airport executives meeting here that there likely would be a third round of 3,000 job cuts after Oct. 1 because, as with the first two rounds of cuts, there is no money in the budget to pay for them.

"Last year, Congress said it didn't care how much security costs, just get it done," Adm. James Schear, deputy administrator of the TSA, told the Airports Council International - North America. "Last year, we had a budget of nearly $6-billion. This year, it will be something under $4-million. It's like trying to change a fan belt with the engine running."

Although another 3,000 jobs are expected to go, there will be few pink slips, especially at Tampa International Airport, said Dario Compain, TIA's federal security director.

"We can do it by attrition, we're sure of that," Compain said. "We lose about 10 to 15 people a month."

The downsizing of TSA's most visible public face is just the latest travail in the short, storied history of an agency that came to life in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks and then promptly alienated Congress and the public with high spending. It has been scrambling to clean its image ever since, with varying results.

TSA officials insist, as they have with previous staff cuts, that passenger and airline safety will not be compromised as a result of their budget problems.

If the additional cuts become necessary as expected, TSA will have until Sept. 30, 2004, to complete them.

Many of the screener positions that remain will be converted from full-time to part-time jobs, ensuring that screening positions will be fully staffed during peak travel hours and more lightly staffed during off-peak hours.

When Tampa International first staffed its new screener corps, there were 740 positions. By May, when the first round of cuts began, TIA's force was up to 828. After the first two rounds of job eliminations, it was down to 684. No one knows how deeply the new cuts might go.

At St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, the first round of cuts dropped the screener corps from 102 to 77.

On other matters, Schear said he wants to double the size of the canine bomb sniffer corps to cover air cargo, a major hole in airport security grids. And TSA is working with flight attendant groups, who want defensive training for those who work in airplane cabins.

"We haven't figured out yet what the flight attendants want, whether it's karate lessons or mace or cattle prods," Schear said. "It was easier with the pilots. All they wanted was guns, and the bigger the better."

[Last modified September 18, 2003, 02:03:00]


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