by Greg Schneider, Washington Post
Baltimore-Washington International Airport will
become the first in the country to have an all-federal
security force by about mid-June, marking the national
debut of the government's air travel security system,
officials said yesterday.
The first 225 government-trained baggage screeners
are to arrive at BWI Tuesday morning, checking
passengers at two concourses. The baggage screeners
are the advance guard of a new federal workforce that
officials acknowledged yesterday will grow to as many
as 65,000 people nationwide -- twice as many workers
as some in Congress expected when they authorized the
federal takeover of air security after the Sept. 11
The new Transportation Security Administration has
until Nov. 19 to get federal baggage screeners into
all 429 airports in the nation.
An earlier estimate that the new agency would need
more than 70,000 law enforcement officers,
supervisors, checkpoint guards and workers to operate
bomb-detection equipment provoked outrage last week in
Congress, with key lawmakers vowing not to fund so
many new hires. The new figure is only "marginally"
better, said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the
House Appropriations transportation subcommittee.
"It's too many," Rogers said. "There would have to
be really good justification for that, which I have
not seen yet."
House Republicans resisted the idea of creating a
new federal bureaucracy last fall, but they agreed
under the general impression that it would be about
the size of the old system of private security
screeners -- about 30,000 people. But the law added so
many other duties, such as operating bomb-detection
equipment, that transportation officials say the scope
of the job is now far beyond just staffing
Rogers pointed out that even at 65,000 people, the
security agency would be larger than the FBI, Customs
and the Drug Enforcement Administration combined. It
would also be bigger than the Federal Aviation
Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization
Service or the Coast Guard.
With Congress also chafing at the time it's taking
the new air security system to take shape,
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta yesterday
announced a series of moves aimed at demonstrating
that action is underway.
In addition to sending screeners to BWI, he said a
team led by Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. has
won a $105 million contract to train 32,000 screeners
who would scrutinize passengers at checkpoints and
gates nationwide. The training is to begin
Mineta also disclosed for the first time how much
equipment the department expects to buy to meet the
congressional deadline of Dec. 31 for having all
luggage screened for explosives. It would take up to
1,100 bomb-detection scanners, each of which costs
nearly $1 million and is the size of a minivan, and up
to 4,700 smaller trace-detection units that can detect
residue of explosives, he said.
Those numbers would help address complaints from
Congress that the security agency has failed to
explain how it plans to spend its money.
Rogers's subcommittee is grappling with the Bush
administration's request for $4.4 billion in funding
to supplement the $2.4 billion already budgeted for
the security agency this year. The agency asked for
$4.8 billion for 2003 but suggested that it might need
more as the size and scope of the job becomes more
Rogers met with Mineta and other transportation
officials yesterday morningto ask for explanations.
The group also discussed the possibility of waiving
the Dec. 31 deadline for subjecting all luggage to
bomb-detection equipment, but Rogers said they decided
against it. "On reflection, I don't think we can and
they agreed," he said. "The law provides [the
deadline] and I think the public expects it."
Mineta said he plans to meet the deadline by using
a mix of technologies at airports around the country,
with some locations installing only the big scanners,
others relying on trace alone and many using a
combination of the two.
While some in Congress have argued that all
airports should use full-size scanners, transportation
officials say there is no way to manufacture and
install that much machinery by year-end. Trace
detectors, which consist of cotton swabs that are
rubbed on and inside bags and then inserted into a
device that identifies explosive residue -- would be
just as effective, Transportation Department spokesman
Lenny Alcivar said.
The agency expects to award a multibillion-dollar
contract by the middle of next week to a company to
oversee the logistics of buying and installing all of
the equipment nationwide.
Once that contract is in place, and with the
federal screeners beginning work at BWI, the new
security system will have entered a much more visible
phase. "As you can tell, we have a lot on our plate.
But there can be no doubt: We will meet every goal and
we will honor every deadline," Mineta said in a speech
at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The BWI effort would take about six weeks to reach
completion, officials said. The batch of screeners who
start work next Tuesday are temporary staffers called
a "mobile screening force." Trained at a government
center in Oklahoma City, those workers will one day be
supervisors at security checkpoints around the
For their first two weeks at BWI, they will get
on-the-job training as ordinary passenger screeners at
concourses A and B. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin --
along with partners that include Homeland Security
Corp., Galaxy Scientific Corp., Windmill International
and Oklahoma University -- will begin training more
new hires to become full-time baggage screeners. That
training involves 40 hours in the classroom at a
Baltimore area site that has yet to be determined,
The first 300 of those screeners will report to BWI
and get their own 60 hours of on-the-job training from
the mobile screening force. As the permanent screeners
complete training, the mobile force will rotate to
BWI's concourses C, D and E to train the next batches
of permanent screeners.
If all goes smoothly, the whole process should be
complete by about mid-June, officials said. The mobile
force will then move on to other airports to begin the
process anew. Officials have yet to settle on a
timetable for which locations get federalized