WHY THE OIA SCREENERS HATE THEIR JOBS 


;Editor's note: Back in the misty recesses of time, this paper featured a news/;media/current events column called "Slug." It was erudite, critically acclaimed and penned by brilliant writers who embodied the best hope of their respective generations. It was all things to all people, and its passing was mourned by at least one person that we know of because he wrote a letter to the editor.

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;Well, Fred Samuels of Clermont, your wish is our belated command. After an extended sabbatical, Slug is back in heavy rotation. Commence to quaking in your boots, evildoers!

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;In the last few months I've spent a lot of time talking with a lot of men and women employed by the Transportation Security Administration. These are the people who screen your baggage and your person at Orlando International Airport. They work to keep bombs, guns, knives, Mace, box cutters and other contraband off planes at the busiest airport in the state. They are the last line of defense.

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;And here's a secret: They hate their jobs.

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;OK, that's not entirely fair. I didn't talk to every TSA employee at the airport. And the ones I did speak to uniformly understand the value of what they do. Many are military vets who joined the 5-year-old federal agency shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, out of a sense of duty. They take pride in their work. They want to find that one person in line with ill intentions, or that one piece of luggage designed to cause mayhem.

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;What they really hate is that management won't let them do their jobs. They're disgusted with the cronyism, incompetence and ineptitude they say is the norm at OIA, where it's all about who you know, not what, and whether or not you were around in the days before TSA took over.

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;Prior to July 2002, checkpoints at OIA were run by a company named Argenbright Security, the same company that paid $1.5 million in fines and restitution to the federal government after being convicted of fraud charges for hiring criminals, failing to do background checks and falsifying test scores of its screeners at Philadelphia International Airport.

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;If you were one of them at OIA, you're in the clique, screeners say.

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; "It's an organization that operates on fear and intimidation," says one screener who, like every TSA employee I talked to, asked not to be identified. "I guess they feel it's a motivator."

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;You don't even have to talk to a screener to get a feel what it's like at OIA. Just type www.tsa-at-mco.netfirms.com into your browser. Skip the intro (it's not very flashy), then choose any category that catches your eye from the pulldown menu. It doesn't matter which, because eventually they all devolve into bitter screeds against TSA management in general, and working at Orlando International in particular.

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;The "gripes and groans" category, for example, is where you'll find this rant:

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;Batching Bags

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;What the hell are we doing?

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;I am appalled at the excuse or reason for this action. When we get more than twenty-five bags at any station we are told to begin batching!

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;For those of you that may not understand this term, you line up six bag rows, take one swipe from each of the six bags, then send them down to the bagroom as being cleared of explosives, or anything that may cause the plane to explode.

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;I could not believe this is being allowed so I asked for proof in writing that this was authorized. Yep, it is, however no one had the gall to sign the memo that came from the headquarters at the Citadel. Wonder why?

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;Then why don't we take every sixth passenger going through the check point and just swipe their bags, never mind using the X-ray or wanding them, are we just lying to the American people, and giving them a false sense of security?

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;In my opinion this procedure should only be used IF, all other resources have been tried, i.e. calling for assistance from other locations, or sending some of these bags to other locations, at least perform the 40/40/20 procedure, not take the easy way out !!!!!

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;DOES ANYONE AGREE WITH THIS PROCEDURE, surely not supervisors, leads or other screeners that were trained and swore an oath to perform their tasks in the proper manner.

;; If screeners playing roulette with bag searches doesn't bother you, consider a memo leaked to the Orlando Sentinel about screeners failing a basic proficiency test. The resulting Sentinel story, published Aug. 23, reported that 501 of the airport's 830 security personnel didn't score very well on the Threat Image Projection (TIP) test, which is a means of assessing whether or not screeners are identifying things that could be guns and explosives.

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;And if that doesn't bother you, consider a memo leaked to this paper concerning something called the Image Mastery Test (IMT). This assesses whether or not screeners can pick out images of dangerous objects on X-ray machines. It's used for on-the-job training, it's classified and it's only supposed to be available to a few people; if the answers got out, the test would be worthless as a means of distinguishing qualified screeners from those not up to the task.

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;But March 9, a TSA employee found the test open on a computer in an unsecured area, according to written report of the incident given to me by a source. On the screen were what appeared to be scores from a series of six practice tests someone had taken. "Note that the most recent test was administered to [a TSA supervisor]," the report states. "Next are six test administered to ‘duck,' followed by a test of [a security officer]. These ‘duck' tests taken with obviously bogus SSANs [screener IDs] are practice tests. The IMT test administrator's handbook specifically forbids using the IMT for practice."

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;Lee Kair is the new Federal Security Director at the airport. He's only been there for about seven weeks, but he's already heard the complaints of favoritism. He's making additional training for midlevel managers a priority, and he wants all TSA employees to get a fair shot at promotions.

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;Not that they didn't in the past. "I do not have any information that we have not followed policy," he said, mindful of the bureaucracy for which he works.

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;Kair told me he can't speak to the specific issues like bag batching, or the IMT or TIP tests, because that kind of information is classified and should never have been leaked to the press in the first place. He did characterize the TIP test memo as not as big a deal as it sounds. "That's not a critical test," Kair said. "TIP is a training tool. We have other tests that are very vigorous."

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;As for the Image Mastery Test on unsecured computers, Kair said he hadn't heard about it until I brought it to his attention Sept. 15. By Sept. 18, he said he'd checked it out. "What I understand is that the computers that have this test are secure. This was fully investigated. Based on feedback I received, there is not a concern with this."

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;Nonetheless, he didn't appear to have seen the actual complaint. "I'm not sure why someone would release this," he said after reading a copy.

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;If I had to guess, I'd say it's because they couldn't think of any other way to get someone to listen.

; slug@orlandoweekly.com

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