Airport screener cutback includes 242 in Hawai'i
Advertiser Staff and News Services
A year after an all-out hiring drive to take over security at U.S. airports, the federal government announced yesterday it will cut 6,000 jobs, or 11 percent of the 55,600 federal screeners now checking passengers and their bags.
The Transportation Security Administration's decision came after stiff criticism from key lawmakers that the agency wasted hundreds of millions of dollars by hiring too many people in a chaotic scramble to meet congressional deadlines.
"America has too much riding on TSA to allow it to waste money and turn into a bloated federal bureaucracy," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., a sharp critic. "Current staffing levels are out of hand, and in many airports, dozens of TSA employees are screening handfuls of passengers."
Sidney Hayakawa, head of federal security at Honolulu International Airport, said he received word yesterday to cut 10 percent of his 650-person screening staff.
"We will try our hardest to make those cuts through attrition," Hayakawa said.
The moves will save the Transportation Security Administration an estimated $280 million, director James Loy said.
The first 3,000 cuts will be made by May 31, the rest by Sept. 30.
Loy said the cuts won't diminish security, though it's possible they could add some time to the screening process. A 10-minute wait limit is still the goal, he said.
Airline security advocate Paul Hudson said the job cuts would compromise airport security unless the TSA improves other parts of the system. For example, he said, buying more bomb-detection machines would mean fewer screeners would be needed.
While TSA hired more screeners last year than it now needs, fewer people are flying, too, meaning less work for screeners. Business travelers did not return in force after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. And leisure travelers have cut back because of the war in Iraq and concerns about the SARS outbreak.
When fully phased in, the staffing reductions are expected to save $288 million out of an annual budget of more than $5 billion.