Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - The Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday it plans to meet the congressional deadlines for staffing security checkpoints in all airports and screening all checked baggage for explosives.
"As far as we're concerned, we're on track," TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker told CNSNews.com Tuesday. "Do we have challenges? Yes, of course we do. We would be naive not to recognize that. However, we are flexible enough to adjust to any bumps in the road."
The agency has until Nov. 19 to hire more than 30,000 passenger screeners and until Dec. 31 to hire more than 22,000 baggage screeners at more than 400 commercial airports.
"We're moving 'fast and furious,'" she added. "We've hired over 10,300 screeners ... we've had over 700,000 people apply online, and we've held, as of Aug. 6, 57 job fairs around the country."
The agency began opening "Job Application Centers" at ten additional cities Tuesday: Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas/Fort Worth, Ft. Myers, Fla., New York, Atlanta, Newark, N.J., Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas.
Applicants must complete an initial "pre-qualification" either online or by calling 877-631-5627. Rosenker believes the intense pre-qualification process will yield a better end result for airline travelers.
"They go through 44 hours of classroom training. They then go to their airport and get 60 hours of on-the-job training," she said, adding that the training is ten times what most privately hired screeners were given. "We clearly believe that the passenger experience, not only from a security standpoint, but also customer service, will be far improved."
Current private screeners are encouraged to apply, but must meet the same standards as all other applicants, and will receive no preferential treatment.
TSA is send site survey teams to 16 airports during this week to prepare for federalized passenger security and baggage screening checkpoints. More than 300 airports that have been visited site survey teams to begin the three-step federalization process, which is composed of:
A site survey to determine the best design of the checkpoint and baggage screening areas;
Checkpoint and baggage screening reconfiguration to best facilitate security and safety; and
Deployment of a general screening workforce.
The agency also implemented federalized passenger screening at an additional eight airports Tuesday, bringing the total to 19. The eight airports are: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Cleveland; Groton-New London Airport, Groton, Conn.; LaGuardia Airport, New York (one terminal); Logan International Airport, Boston (one terminal); Muskegon County International Airport, Muskegon, Mich.; O'Hare International Airport, Chicago (one terminal); Tampa International Airport, Tampa, Fla.; and Worcester Regional Airport, Worcester, Mass.
Rosenker said there is only one apparent roadblock that TSA may not be able to overcome. As CNSNews.com previously reported, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said July 25 that Congress had "dramatically undermined" the agency by restricting some of its requested funding.
"We need the money that we asked for," she added, "and we're hoping that Congress will provide that to us."
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