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New airport screeners on the way

By Ed Brock

On her way home to Dingmans Ferry, Penn. from her Caribbean vacation, Janet Royko said she thinks the country's airways are secure.

"I feel comfortable. I'm not worried," Royko said, standing outside a gift shop at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on Monday.

One story above the atrium where Royko stood, the leaders of Homeland Security for the nation and the state were meeting with airport officials and Congressman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., to discuss how to encourage the spread of such confidence among air travelers.

One of the first topics addressed by Under Secretary for Border & Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson was the plan to add 59 more Transportation Security Administration and four more security checkpoints at Hartsfield-Jackson.

"We have put a lot of attention looking at the lines here and making sure our allocations are correct," Hutchinson said. "I hope this brings some relief."

In the wake of an incident last week in which more than 400 passengers missed flights due to hour and a half delays at security checkpoints, Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Ben DeCosta called for more screeners to be assigned to the airport.

Other airports are experiencing delays as well. Patrick Graham, executive director of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Commission, asked Hutchinson what had happened to the TSA's previously stated goal of keeping waiting periods at airport security checkpoints at 10 minutes.

"We would love to see the wait only 10 minutes long," Graham said. "We'd love to see them down to 30 minutes, actually."

Graham also asked about the effect a cap of 45,000 screeners, imposed by Congress when the federal screening program began, had on the long lines and the subsequent "hassle factor" experienced by air travelers.

Hutchinson said the cap was a good policy when the program began.

"But we have to measure at what point does that cap have to be lifted," Hutchinson said, adding that the TSA has met that cap and now they are reviewing allocations of personnel and the use of new technology to "stretch that 45,000 number."

Isakson said he didn't think Congress would yet be ready to lift the cap and he also addressed the 10-minute wait goal.

"The TSA did not abandon that standard but realized that such a singular standard at this time may not be achievable and could cause more harm than good," Isakson said.

Hutchinson and Georgia Office of Homeland Security Director Bill Hitchens, Jr. went on to address other transportation issues, such as the security of cargo containers coming into Georgia's ports, the safety of the nation's rail system and making truckers' jobs easier while assuring security.

Currently truckers who serve various secure installations have to carry several different credentials, one for each separate installation. Hutchinson said his department is looking at the creation of a single transportation worker identification credential card.

"It makes sense if you could have one credential to show you've been cleared for each facility," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said all of the Department of Homeland Security precautions exist for a reason.

"We live in a dangerous world," Hutchinson said. "This is not going to last just for a decade or two decades. This is going to last for the rest of our lives."