Government to Reconsider Baggage Screener Cuts at Lambert

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal government is reconsidering plans to cut the number of baggage screeners at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Officials with the Transportation Security Administration told staff members of Missouri's congressional delegation on Monday that the agency did not use recent passenger volume counts when it decided last week to trim Lambert's screener staff by 21 percent.

''What we found was that TSA was working with outdated data from last August and the agency received virtually no input from Lambert officials,'' Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., said in a written statement.

Airport officials complained the TSA offered little explanation when it slashed Lambert's allotment of screeners from 440 to 347 as part of a reallocation of the nation's 45,000 screeners. That's a larger percentage cut than any major airport in the country.

Bond and other members of the Missouri congressional delegation had expressed concern that the planned cuts at Lambert could threaten airport security and increase wait times for passengers.

TSA spokeswoman Lara Uselding said the agency would use more recent figures to recalculate passenger numbers for all airports this month and revise its screener allocation plans.

''TSA recognizes the dynamic nature of the aviation industry and is constantly looking at our numbers to appropriately staff the airports around the country,'' Uselding said Tuesday. ''We will partner with Lambert to reach a satisfactory screener model.''

Airport officials said the reduction came despite an increase in flight volume at Lambert. Departures are up 10.4 percent this year over the same period last year.

''We're very pleased with the effort that our political delegation put in meeting with the TSA,'' said Gerard Slay, deputy airport director. ''They were good enough to sit down and said they would look at the numbers for St. Louis.''

Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., said, ''We made clear there must be close coordination between TSA and airport officials so that everyone agrees the data is correct.''

The airport has also hired a consulting firm to help suggest more appropriate numbers to TSA.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press