Most have Military or Police Experience
by Sara Kehaulani Goo, Washington Post
The new face of the federal airport screening force
was revealed to the public yesterday at
Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It is
older, better educated and better compensated.
Of the 221 federal screeners who took their posts
for the first time at airport checkpoints, most had a
military or law enforcement background, and the
majority were white men. None of them were foreign
BWI is the first airport in the nation to get
federal screeners. Transportation Security
Administration officials said all of the 500 to 600
private-sector screeners at BWI will be replaced by
federal employees within six weeks. After the Sept. 11
hijackings, Congress passed a law requiring that all
429 U.S. airports have federal screeners to tighten
To prepare for their new jobs, the screeners had 40
hours of classroom training, five times as much
training as private-sector employees. The federal
screeners will also have 60 hours of on-the-job
Peter Winch, a national organizer with the American
Federation of Government Employees, which is trying to
persuade the TSA to let federal screeners join a
union, said the approach could backfire.
"These people are overqualified, and they will get
bored," Winch said. "They should be hiring the best of
the current workforce."
The federal team that took over BWI's A and B
concourses yesterday replaced screeners employed by
Argenbright Security Inc., whose contract expired
Monday night. Laid-off Argenbright screeners were told
that they can apply for federal screener jobs.
But the the law specifies that veterans be given
priority in hiring. It also requires federal screeners
to speak English, be U.S. citizens and have a high
school diploma or equivalent or one year of experience
as a screener. Many private-sector screening companies
did not require a high school diploma or
The TSA is also giving priority to airline
employees laid off after Sept. 11 and to
law-enforcement officers, said Pamela Pearson, a TSA
Of the 1,700 federal screeners the agency has hired
so far, 58 percent have college degrees. About 60
percent have military backgrounds.
"They look like America," said John W. Magaw,
undersecretary of transportation for security.
At BWI yesterday, about two-thirds of the federal
screeners were male and the overwhelming majority of
them were white -- a striking difference from
private-sector companies, which hired a large number
A TSA spokeswoman said the military backgrounds may
be one reason for the large number of males, but she
said the agency is "striving to have more women"
because women may ask that only female screeners pat
"We are moving toward a federal screening force
that represents the United States' vast cultural and
ethnic diversity," the spokeswoman said. The screener
jobs pay $23,600 to $35,400 a year. Employees get
health and life insurance, retirement benefits, paid
vacation, and sick leave. Private-sector screeners'
pay was increased after Sept. 11 to about $21,000 a
year, but most companies do not provide benefits or
At a news conference at BWI, Magaw said "a fair
number" of former screeners will get federal jobs.
But Winch said the TSA has made it difficult for
screeners working for private companies to apply
online, because it kept the application on its Web
site for only a few days.
A TSA spokesman said the agency, which received
5,000 applications for 600 jobs, removed the forms off
after it received "a significant pool of
Those who lost their jobs Monday said they may not
know for weeks whether they will get federal jobs.
Andra Loucks, 19, was one of the laid-off Argenbright
workers who is applying for federal work.
"I'm really dedicated," Loucks said., "There were a
lot of people who had pride in what they were
The workers who started at BWI yesterday are mobile
screeners, who will move from airport to airport,
helping to begin the federal program and train the
One of them, James Barnett, 39, of Colorado
Springs, retired from the Army last year. He described
his new job traveling around airports as an
"adventure." "It's exciting. It's challenging,"
Also yesterday, the TSA's budget requests were
criticized on Capitol Hill. Drawing the harshest
criticism was a proposal for paying federally employed
armed guards who will be at each airport security
Those officers would earn a minimum of $38,750 a
year; after three years on the job, they could make
from $55,500, for a checkpoint guard, to $104,875 for
a top investigator, Transportation Department
spokesman Chet Lunner said.
Those figures were lower than the ones
congressional staffers received the night before from
the TSA, leading to confusion yesterday about what the
agency was requesting.
The agency told Congress on Monday night that it
planned to pay three-year guards a minimum of almost
$90,000 a year. Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin,
senior Democrat on the House Appropriations
transportation subcommittee, was livid about what he
called a last-minute change.
"They've got to go back to the drawing board and
get us a real proposal based on something other than
somebody's overnight, slapdash suggestion of what they
need to do to make themselves look less foolish in the
press," Obey said.
Richard E. Efford, a Republican staff director on
the Appropriations Committee, said he thought the TSA
was working to address members' concerns. For
instance, the agency promised to hire far fewer
investigators at the high end of the pay range.