Hartsfield security personnel will be cut

By Justin Reedy

The federal Transportation Security Administration announced Thursday it would be laying off 263 security screeners at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport as a cost-cutting measure.

Minutes later, Hartsfield general manager Ben DeCosta told the media that cutting the security screening workforce was a move in the "wrong direction" with airport travelers already experiencing long delays at Hartsfield checkpoints.

Adm. James Loy, the administrator of the TSA, spoke Thursday at Hartsfield, detailing the government's plan for reorganizing his department in the face of budget concerns. The TSA announced in March that it would cut 3,000 screeners nationwide from its 55,600 workforce by May 31, and said this week it would trim an additional 3,000 positions by Sept. 30.

"While we still live in a dangerous world, it also is time to assess our workplace requirements in relation to budget realities," Loy said.

"This means looking at the level of screener staffing at every airport, how many are part-time, how many are full-time, and whether they are on duty at the right time, when passenger traffic is heaviest."

After the cuts are completed, Hartsfield's federal security screener force will number 1,072, down from 1,335 on March 31. The TSA's annual budget is going from $5.98 billion this fiscal year to $4.82 billion in 2004; the agency expects to save $32 million this year and $288 million next year from the reorganization.

Directly after Loy's press conference at Hartsfield Thursday morning, DeCosta met with members of the media, criticizing the move and the effect it could have on traveler delays at Atlanta's airport.

DeCosta released a document showing that during the 121-day period from last December through this March there were 78 days when wait times at the primary checkpoints were at or over the federally mandated 10 minutes, including 27 days in March alone.

Another 37 days in the four-month period saw wait times of 20 minutes or more, while three days had waits of at least an hour.

"We have a substantial number of days when lines (at airport security checkpoints) are unacceptably long," said DeCosta, who even held up a photo from the airport's Atrium showing long lines experienced on a weekday morning in February.

Cutting the federal screener force will likely cause longer lines, DeCosta said, which isn't a good idea at Hartsfield, the world's busiest passenger airport and a transportation hub for the eastern United States.

"Our view is that the reduction of 263 federal staff members from this airport is going in the wrong direction," he added.

Loy downplayed the effect a staff reduction could have on wait times – and security – at Hartsfield, saying that Willie Williams, the federal security director for the airport, would be working closely with DeCosta and airport officials to minimize problems.

"(Customer service is) exactly what I'm going to watch most closely, while keeping a grip on the security side," said Loy, who added that he is concerned about customer wait times as an index of customer satisfaction at Hartsfield.