DOT disputes report of untrained screeners
Tom Ridge: Not 'the kind of story that inspires confidence'
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Transportation said Tuesday that dozens of screeners assigned to check bags at Norfolk (Virginia) International Airport -- while lacking the full training they should have had -- were given substantially more training than was listed in a weekend news report.
The San Francisco Chronicle over the weekend quoted one of the 80 screeners, all part of an elite mobile unit hired by the TSA last spring, as saying they had "10, 15 minutes" of training in how to use the trace detection equipment used to swab bags for explosives at security checkpoints.
DOT spokesman Lenny Alcivar refuted the report, telling CNN the federal screeners had more like 90 minutes of training in trace detection.
And although the Transportation Security Administration has acknowledged that the screeners lacked the 40 hours of classroom training in bag inspection they were supposed to have, they had already received 40 hours of classroom training in passenger screening and many more hours of on-the-job training, Alcivar said.
A TSA official Monday had said the screeners did not receive the full amount of training because they were part of a pilot program at the Norfolk airport created to develop the curriculum for future training. Furthermore, supervisors and security consultants were always on hand to monitor the baggage screening, said TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker.
Fully trained screeners dispatched
"They didn't read the machines on their own. They were always supervised," Rosenker said.
Fully trained bag screeners were deployed Monday to the Norfolk airport and Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rosenker said.
Many of the Norfolk screeners who received the "abbreviated" bag screening training have gone back to passenger screening positions at other airports, she said. The remaining screeners are to complete their training starting September 2 at the FAA/TSA training facility in Oklahoma City.
Rosenker said the training for permanent bag screeners will also involve 40 hours of classroom training in bag screening techniques and technology plus on-the-job training.
The DOT inspector general's office confirmed it had recently learned of the situation at the Norfolk airport from screeners there who wrote to them to complain about the lack of training they were receiving to screen baggage.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge reacted to the news with concern.
"Fifteen minutes dealing with this fairly sophisticated technology is unacceptable. I hope it is an aberration," he said. "It's just not the kind of training that is needed, nor is it the kind of story that inspires confidence with the traveling public."
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