Mar. 2--The U.S. Transportation Security Administration this week rehired a group of security screeners in Orlando who were fired after they failed either the annual baggage- or passenger-screening exams.
Federal security officials at Orlando International Airport initially said that transportation security officers must pass both the passenger-checkpoint and checked-baggage tests even if the officer rarely worked in one of the areas.
At least 10 security officers were fired or placed on leave because they failed one of the tests, according to union accounts. A TSA spokesman would not release the exact number.
"We've gone back to re-evaluate that policy and decided to allow a TSO [transportation security officer] to stay on if they passed one of the tests," agency spokesman Christopher White said. "I think it's really to keep a pool of experienced TSOs on the job that otherwise wouldn't be on the job."
The security administration's decision came after a union attorney contacted the agency about the firings, claiming the TSA was not properly following its own procedures by requiring officers who primarily work in one area to pass both exams.
"If you haven't worked there in a year and you haven't received any training, there's something wrong" with that, said Matthew Milledge, an attorney for the American Federation of Government Employees.
White said the goal in Orlando and other airports is for security officers to be "dual certified," meaning they can proficiently screen people as well as bags.
"It increases our flexibility to staff the checkpoint or baggage screening area more efficiently," he said.
But often, Milledge said, security officers are repeatedly assigned to one station or the other and, over time, lose their proficiency in the area they are not working.
White said the rehired officers would not be allowed to work at the station for which they failed to pass the exam until they are retrained in those skills.
White said "less than a handful" of Orlando's 890 security officers failed both tests during the mandatory annual exams that began in February. Those officers were terminated and not rehired, he said.
Beth Kassab can be reached at 407-420-5448 or [email protected].