New federal security directors at the nation's airports will be the backbone of the government's airport security program, Transportation Department officials said Thursday. The Transportation Department must hire federal security directors for each of the nation's 419 airports under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which became law in November. These officials will have operational control for security at airports and will report directly to the headquarters of the new Transportation Security Administration, according to the Transportation officials. "We are trying to make as few layers as possible between those officials and folks at the top of [the TSA]," an official said at a news briefing at Transportation headquarters in Washington. The agency has retained a search firm to recruit highly qualified applicants for the security director positions and hopes to have "more than a handful" in place by February, according to the official. Many airports currently have federal security managers, employees of the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aviation Security Office who monitor private companies that handle baggage screening at the nation's airports. These employees can apply for the new federal security director jobs but will not automatically be hired, the official said. "Currently, [federal security managers] don't have extensive management responsibility," said an official. "If they don't get this job, they might get one of the [other] supervisory jobs in the airport." Transportation officials also announced they have reached an agreement with federal law enforcement training centers in Glynco, Ga., and Artesia, N.M. to help train federal air marshals, a covert anti-hijacking force that also comes under TSA control under the new law. Currently, air marshals are trained at the FAA's technical center in Atlantic City, N.J. Officials said air marshals and federal law enforcement officers could undergo some common training. Under the law, a federal law enforcement officer must be stationed at every screening point in the airport.