WASHINGTON – The government plans to reshuffle its passenger and baggage screeners (search), drawing protests from some airports slated to lose workers.
Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., will be among those taking the biggest hits. Las Vegas, Dulles International Airport in Washington and Los Angeles International Airport will gain, according to the plan, which will be implemented in the next couple of months.
The Transportation Security Administration (search) defended the moves Thursday, saying the goal is to better allocate screeners to ensure that airports with the greatest needs have adequate staffs. The overall work force will remain at 45,000.
"There are some airports that we believe are overstaffed and some we believe are understaffed," Tom Blank, TSA's acting deputy administrator, told the House Homeland Security subcommittee on economic security, infrastructure protection and cybersecurity.
Mark Brewer, who heads T.F. Green Airport in Providence, R.I., questioned why his facility will lose 32 full-time employees, or 13 percent of its work force, at a time when record numbers of people are using it.
"We're very, very concerned about the reduction in staffing," Brewer said.
Blank said the TSA considered many factors when it reallocated the screeners. Those include the number of checkpoints, flights and passengers at each airport — all of which change.
The TSA, created after the Sept. 11 attacks to oversee airport security, faced early criticism for failing to properly staff some major airports, leading to long lines of passengers. The agency made its first adjustments last year, shifting some jobs to better reflect passenger traffic that has returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels.
Among the hardest hit under the new plan is Pittsburgh International Airport, which will lose 122 people, more than a third of its screeners. Portland International Airport in Oregon will lose 168, also about a third.
Some adjustments will be slight. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport (search) will decline from 1,577 screeners to 1,571, and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta will go from 1,082 to 1,061.
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which often has some of the longest waits, will be one of the biggest gainers, with 247 more screeners, a 30 percent increase. Los Angeles International Airport will get another 120 screeners for a total of 2,157.
Congress is considering trimming screeners. The House voted to cut 2,000 jobs next year, while the Senate approved a reduction of 6,000. The two figures must be reconciled before President Bush can sign a reduction into law as part of the Homeland Security spending bill.
James Bennett, who heads the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said the TSA's ability to screen passengers and bags already is being pushed to the limit because so many people are flying.
"Without dramatic changes to the aviation security model in use today, we will not be able to meet the demands," Bennett said.
Airports have the option of using privately employed screeners, which they did before the Sept. 11 attacks, but so far only two have asked the TSA for permission to do so — Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota and Elko Regional Airport in Nevada. Sioux Falls' application was approved Wednesday.