Aviation safety agency picks recruiting firm, sets screener pay

The Transportation Security Administration has picked NCS Pearson Inc., an education, testing and assessment firm, to recruit and hire more than 30,000 workers to screen baggage at the nation's airports, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced Monday. Mineta also said that salaries for baggage screeners would range from $23,000 for entry-level workers to $40,700 for senior supervisors. "I want to underscore my commitment to . . . the creation of a federal security workforce that is highly trained, better paid, and provides the highest possible levels of security and customer service," Mineta said during a press conference at the Transportation Department's headquarters in Washington. Under a $103.4 million contract with Transportation, NCS Pearson will run the entire hiring campaign, from processing applications to interviewing prospective screeners at "assessment centers" it will establish across the country. The Eden Prairie, Minn.-based company will also provide human resources support once the new workers are in place. Candidates for screening jobs will be able to apply online at a Web site developed by NCS Pearson and Monster.com, a subcontractor on the contract. The recruitment Web site is not up yet. Before candidates can apply, Transportation must hammer out the details of the baggage screener position. The department has not decided whether screeners will be allowed to unionize or what kind of whistleblower protection rights they will have, according to Mineta and TSA chief John Magaw. Magaw has said that the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act would not cover TSA employees, but on Monday he said the agency was developing a policy that would give workers some protection for reporting incidents of fraud and abuse. The policy will be based on a system Magaw used when he was director of the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, said TSA spokesman Jim Mitchell. Once the decisions on how screener positions will be constructed have been made, NCS Pearson will begin to accept applications to work at selected airports at its recruitment Web site. Candidates will apply to work at specific airports and be hired and trained over the spring and summer so the full workforce can be deployed by Nov. 19, a deadline mandated by the 2001 Aviation and Transportation Security Act. The first screeners should be in place by May or June, according to Mineta. The Transportation Department wants candidates to apply online, but applicants without Web access can apply with TSA officials at airports, according to TSA spokesman Jonathan Thompson. Thousands of people have already signed up with TSA to receive applications to be baggage screeners, but these people will still need to file online applications when NCS Pearson is ready to take applications. The salary range for baggage screeners creates a career path for new security workers, according to Transportation officials. "This is a career, not a second job," said Mitchell. "We're creating a professional screening force." To join the federal screening force, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen, fluent in English and hold a high school diploma or equivalency certificate or a year of relevant work experience. Applicants must also pass an aptitude test that will measure their ability to speak English, perform screening duties and deal with the public.
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