The center was set up in anticipation of the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981. Its Office of Human Resource Management ended up processing more than 50,000 job applications for controller positions after President Reagan fired the striking controllers. Since then, the office has served as the central screening point for all applications for security positions at the FAA. It has handled more than 100,000 applications since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from people interested in serving as air marshals.
While responsibility for air security has shifted from the FAA to the TSA, the Oklahoma City center will continue to screen applicants for security positions, including the nearly 30,000 baggage screeners who will be hired this year.
"We've never seen anything like this before," said Dot Tharnish, head of the Office of Human Resource Management, standing in what she calls the "war room," the place where the office has processed more than 80,000 paper applications and 61,000 online applications for air marshal jobs since mid-September.
Officials at the center do not make hiring decisions. Instead, they craft job vacancy announcements, write questions asked on applications and make sure applicants meet minimum requirements.
Tharnish said 16 federal employees and eight contractors have worked "a lot of overtime" in the past three months to screen the 141,000 applications for air marshal positions. On its busiest day, she says, the center received nearly 20,000 paper applications and the online server crashed due to the volume of applicants.
The past three months were only a trial run for the onslaught of applications the center expects when job openings for the newly created federal airport baggage screeners are posted. "We are expecting 200,000, and it could reach 500,000," Tharnish said.
Ten Aeronautical Center employees will staff a telephone call center from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Central Time) Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays to answer questions posed by applicants for screener positions. Tharnish says TSA is footing the bill for the recruitment effort, which is expected to cost more than $1 million.
U.S. citizens who want to be considered for screening jobs can register with the Transportation Department by e-mail or phone. The department will send applications to all registered candidates this spring. To sign up, click here.