In a bid by the Bush administration to add a new layer of security to airports, thousands of airline employees could be replaced by federally trained officers.
About 1,300 officers employed by the Transportation Security Administration would take over checking documents at most major airports by 2008 under the plan, according to Kip Hawley, assistant secretary of the agency.
Hawley pushed for $60 million in funding for the proposal at a House homeland security appropriations subcommittee hearing led by U.S. Rep. David Price earlier this week.
In addition to verifying travelers' documents, officers would be trained to detect behavior in individuals that could suggest hostile intent.
"It extends the federal presence of security beyond the metal detectors," said Christopher White, spokesman for the security agency. " ... More than just looking at a document and saying 'fake license, real license,' they could actually size up the passenger into behavior detection."
The document checkers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, as at other major airports, are employed by companies contracted by airlines. The employees stand at the beginning of security lines to check passengers' boarding passes against their driver's licenses before travelers pass through metal detectors. The number of document checkers at RDU was not immediately available.
Southwest Airlines, which operates at RDU along with eight other major airlines, employs seven document checkers. Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said that, with the federal plan, those workers would likely be placed in other jobs in the cities where they work.
Concerns about security in airport employee screenings were raised at the hearing on Capitol Hill.
One legislator, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said the government's emphasis on screening passengers while not subjecting airport employees to the same scrutiny was comparable to installing an alarm system in a house while "leaving the back door open."
Transportation Security Officers, who are stationed throughout airports, conduct random security checks on airport workers, according to Hawley. But all employees are not required to walk through security checkpoints.
There are about 300 Transportation Security Officers at RDU, compared to about 1,500 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and 43,000 nationwide.
By the spring, immigration status checks will be required for all employees applying for airport access cards, said Transportation Security spokesman Christopher White.
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