TSA seeks 1,300 more employees

The head of the Transportation Security Administration pitched staffing increases to lawmakers Tuesday, saying a larger staff was necessary to bolster airport security.

Kip Hawley, the administrator of TSA, said at a hearing that an additional 1,300 employees and a $60 million budget increase for fiscal 2008 would be necessary. The beefed-up security would help in checking identification documents against boarding passes and searching for fake IDs, he said.

"It was astounding how many fake documents" were detected at checkpoints created to test the magnitude of the problem, Hawley said. He told lawmakers that some fakes belonged to minors and others to illegal immigrants.

Hawley said TSA is planning to deploy 2,000 screeners nationwide to spot fake identification before would-be scammers can get close to entry points. He estimated that about a third of these screeners -- roughly 700 people -- would be drawn from the agency's existing workforce.

Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, criticized the plans to shift existing staff, saying such a move would reduce the number of employees available to address other security concerns.

But Hawley said the ID checkers were necessary "from a security point of view."

At the hearing, Rogers also congratulated Hawley on TSA's falling attrition rate, which has reached about 21 percent annually, but said the agency must do better. "That's still high," he told Hawley.

Hawley told lawmakers that TSA is committed to keeping employees longer and has established a "career progression" for workers to follow toward promotions. Injury rates also are sharply down, he said. Attrition for part-time employees is far greater than that for the agency's full-time workers, he noted.

Cathleen Berrick, director of homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office, told lawmakers that the higher turnover for part-time employees could be attributed in part to the agency's failure to offer discounts on parking. Parking can be exorbitantly costly in urban areas, and for employees working fewer hours, this expense might not be worth it, she said.

Berrick also said TSA's management of technology components of the Secure Flight traveler screening program was inadequate. She testified that better coordination with the Customs and Border Protection bureau was needed to ensure accurate flight watch list checks, and that privacy issues regarding full-body image scanners still would have to be resolved before TSA put the machines into widespread use.

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