Federal Screener Idea is a nightmare

A1FlyBoy

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The federal government's vaunted plan to hire and train 30,000 airport security screeners by November is struggling to get off the ground as job applicants report they find it impossible to apply for jobs at nearly all the nation's airports.

No one can yet apply to be a security screener at San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Chicago airports, among others. In fact, of the 429 commercial airports in the United States, only six have posted any job openings.

The government's plan is so far behind schedule that frustrated job-seekers say they've waited months for job applications that still haven't arrived. The cause, according to a Chronicle investigation, is government red tape compounded by the massive task of creating a new government agency from scratch.

Airport experts say the applications delays cast doubt on whether the new Transportation Security Administration can meet a Nov. 19 congressional deadline for mobilizing a federal security force at the nation's commercial airports.

For example, the TSA has said it would dispatch what officials say will be highly trained, professional screeners to San Francisco International Airport as early as this month. But the agency is not yet even accepting applications for jobs at SFO or Oakland or Mineta San Jose international airports.

Yet, even after the applications are in, the TSA still has to hire, check backgrounds, train and deploy nearly 1,000 screeners each week to meet the November deadline for staffing the nation's airports. After undergoing an FBI background check that itself can take weeks, would-be screeners must pass 40 hours of classroom training, then take another 60 hours of on-the-job training.

"How can they hire when no one can apply?" said Lynda McBroom of Oakland, who has tried four times since Feb. 4, without success, to get an application for her daughter. "We are feeling as if we are throwing requests, questions and information into a black hole."

Screeners are often called the "key line of defense" in the U.S. aviation system because they are charged with stopping bombs, guns and knives from reaching jetliners via passengers or baggage.

Like McBroom, some applicants say they've been tormented by ever-shifting TSA postings on the agency's Web site and postcards that first promised to mail applications "as soon as they become available" and then said applications "will be available online."

ENDLESS INTERNET LOOPS
After repeated efforts to apply, McBroom said, she's received only postcards saying either that she will receive something in the mail or that she has to apply online at some future date. She also has been trapped in Internet loops to nowhere and reached telephone recordings telling her there are no openings or that applications are not being accepted.

The confusion is partly driven by a "tidal wave of phone calls" from more than 40,000 job seekers, according to a Transportation Department Web site.

Yet, the TSA compounded the problem when its Web site told people in January and February to provide their names and addresses to an online database to receive an application by mail. Then, on March 4, the TSA awarded a $103 million contract to NCS Pearson, a Minnesota recruiting firm, that instead began an online-application process at the Monster.com employment Web site.

The TSA's original applicant database was forwarded to Pearson only last week, a TSA spokesman said.

A recruiting representative answering a TSA hot line said the bureaucratic nightmare has been a "major topic" from frustrated applicants from across the country who call "all day long."

"A lot of people were fooled into thinking they were getting an application by putting their name on that mailing list," said the TSA employee, who declined to give his name.

"I don't know if it's the bureaucracy or what, but they're sure not impressing me," said Richard Duffen, 65, a retired Alameda County sheriff's deputy who, as instructed by the TSA Web site, sent an e-mail more than a month ago requesting an application to be a security screener.

"I'm fit to be tied," Duffen said. "I've never heard word one from the
TSA."

'A LOT OF CONFUSION'
SFO spokesman Ron Wilson said he's "not overly optimistic" that the TSA can meet its ambitious plan to dispatch federal screener teams to airports across the nation this spring and summer.

"There seems to have been throughout the process a lot of confusion as to deadlines and implementation of TSA programs," he said.

The recruitment challenge will be formidable at Bay Area airports like SFO, Wilson said, where 80 percent of the existing private screeners are noncitizens barred by law from working for the federal force. But Wilson said that even current screeners tell him they've had trouble getting information.

TSA and Pearson officials said they want to reassure the public that, despite initial glitches and delays, the online application process is running smoothly now.

A TSA spokesman said screener jobs for some airports are being gradually posted on the agency's Web site -- www.tsa.gov.

However, there is no schedule for when jobs will be listed at specific airports. A knowledgeable source said SFO jobs probably won't be posted on the TSA Web site until late May, despite well-publicized assurances from transportation officials that SFO would see its first federal screeners as early as this month.

"The TSA is working incredibly diligently to get our 30,000 screeners identified, assessed, hired and trained so we may meet the congressional mandate to federalize screeners by Nov. 19," the TSA spokesman said.

NCS Pearson spokesman David Hakensen said, "I can reassure people who are looking for screener jobs at airports they are not going to be overlooked. They're not missing any opportunities."

But security expert Charles Slepian said he has heard from a private security contractor that the TSA knows it can't make the November deadline and will extend private screener contracts to buy time. While the chief goal of the new transportation security law was replacing poorly paid and trained screeners, Slepian believes the TSA wants to "recycle" existing screeners who already have background clearances and experience to expedite the new federal force.

6 AIRPORTS WITH OPENINGS

Earlier this week, Monster.com had posted a total 68 screener supervisors and screener job openings at just six airports: Anchorage, Ala., Baltimore, Louisville, Ky., Spokane, Wash., Mobile, Ala., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Once jobs are posted on the TSA Web site (which links to Monster.com listings) there's a 24-hour deadline to apply online.

Many job-hunters were confounded that, while they couldn't find a way to apply, the TSA recently announced it had begun training the first of 1,200 screener supervisors to be dispatched to airports nationwide.
 

azpilot

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So what did you expect????

We live in the greatest country in the world but they way our government runs at times is a joke. My dad worked for the government for years. He worked in a government hospital which the Reagan administration said they were going to close down or privatize. So in the gov. infinite wisdom everyone in Seattle got transferred all over the country. People from all over the country got transferred to Seattle. 12-14 years later the hospital finally went private. Don't you think the taxpayers dollars would have been better spent leaving everything in place. This type of stuff happens every day.


Federalizing the security system is not going to make anything any safer it will just make it more expensive. Standards should have been set along with appropraite pay instead of to the lowest bidder and the whole **CENSORED****CENSORED****CENSORED****CENSORED** thing should have stayed private. If you were a security guard prior to 9-11 , in most cases, you should be disqualified for the position.

Much like gun control we don't need more laws we need to enforce the once that are out there, i.e. tougher enforcement of existing immigration rules and we need people that make more than $4 an hour to check our bags. It might be nice if the pilots who seem to be searched so often could make more than $4 an hour as well.

Evertime you think of 9-11 may we drop a big bomb on a cave in Afghanistan.
 

skydiverdriver

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Nov 26, 2001
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I agree with AZ, and I'm from AZ too! Making those jokers federal employees was a bad idea from the start, and the only reason the democrats could pass it was because one republican tricked his constituants and passed over to the dark side. I can't believe Bush signed it, but he had little choice. I heard that they couldn't even keep the original promise of them being High School grads and US citizens, because so many of the current workforce were not. What a sham. I'll bet a private company could have a workforce in place with no problem, and for less money. Now we're going to get some people with a little power, who can't be fired. Great idea.

I just hope we get a national pilot ID card so I can bypass these clowns.
 
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