Magazine article Security Management

Screeners under Fire

Magazine article Security Management

Screeners under Fire

Article excerpt

GAO finds fault with practices

A report that finds fault with the hiring, compensation, and training of airport security screeners topped the agenda of a recent congressional hearing held by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Aviation. Though the bearing covered a number of issues, such as bomb detection technology and blast-resistant cargo containers, the primary focus fell on a General Accounting Office (GAO) report that criticizes airports, air carriers, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for failing to properly hire and adequately train quality airport screening personnel.

Screening. In the report, GAO investigators noted that despite the fact that nearly 10,000 firearms have been detected and seized by airport screeners over the past five years, numerous other weapons are passed through checkpoints undetected (a fact learned from subsequent reports of such incidents).

The GAO also noted that high turnover has been a continuing problem among screening companies. From May 1998 through April 1999, screener turnover averaged 126 percent at 19 of the nation's largest airports. Five airports reported turnover exceeding 200 percent and one experienced a 416 percent turnover rate.

To reduce turnover, the GAO suggested that screening companies increase salaries and benefits for screeners. According to the report, at 14 of the 19 airports studied, screeners were paid a salary of $6 or less per hour. At five of the airports, screeners were paid only minimum wage, $5.15 per hour. At one airport, screeners were paid $6.25 per hour, while the hourly wage at the airport fast food restaurants was $7.

In contrasting U.S. screeners with those from other countries, the GAO found that in European countries salaries range from the equivalent of $7.50 per hour to $14, and turnover rates are 50 percent or lower as a result. Even the lowest salaries were three times those of fast food workers. Screeners also received benefits as well as increased training and educational possibilities. In a confidential test conducted by the FAA and one of the countries studied, European screeners detected more than twice as many test objects as did U.S. screeners.

The nature of the job also contributes to poor performance, according to the report. …

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