TSA Meets Screener Deadline

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has done what a lot of people said couldn't be done. They've recruited and hired and trained and staffed 424 of the nation's airports with 47,000 federally employed security screeners. They'll all be in place this week, meeting the congressional deadline set eight months ago. "This was an enormous task, and one that people said couldn't be achieved," said Robert Johnson, spokesman for the TSA. "The deadline will be met." Others don't quite see it as the best thing since sliced bread. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, says the TSA has too many screeners who stand around with not enough to keep them busy. The TSA says it's just a matter of time before things level off and staffing gets back to something resembling reasonable. A lot of screeners are being trained, while others are waiting for explosive detection equipment to arrive, according to Johnson. Others, like Rogers, question the wisdom of scrambling to hire such a huge workforce in such a short period of time.

...Not All Airports Will Make Deadline...

It's a mixed bag of results when it comes to airport security. While the screeners are seemingly in place, not all the bomb-detection machines will be installed by the congressionally mandated deadline of Dec. 31. Some 20 or 30 airports won't have enough equipment or personnel to make sure that every single bag is checked for explosives, according to Adm. James M. Loy, TSA undersecretary of transportation for security. Instead, the agency will employ stopgap techniques such as bag matching and dogs to guard against bombs. Part of the problem is simply a matter of time. Airport executives claim there just isn't enough of it to make the arrangements to install the bulky, heavy equipment in crowded airport terminals. Some terminals will require extensive renovation to handle the equipment. Pending legislation will probably authorize Loy to grant an extension for compliance to some airports for a period of three months to a year.

...Pilots Get Guns

The Senate's passage of the Homeland Security Act on Tuesday allowing pilots of passenger airliners to carry guns was, of course, cheered by the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance (APSA). "We are very pleased that arming airline pilots will soon be the law of the land and that the Homeland Security bill requires the TSA to implement a strong program," said APSA President Tracy Price, who lobbied hard for pilots' rights to bear arms. Price noted that there are no limits on participation. Any pilot who passes screening and training can pack and airlines won't have a say on whether guns can be taken aboard the airplanes that they own and otherwise control. Price pointed out the bill still has an unacceptable weakness in that it does not allow pilots flying freight to carry guns.