March 28, 2003 – The official in charge of federal security operations at the territory's airports says he doesn't anticipate any reduction in his work force as part of the planned layoff of up to 3,000 screeners across the country by the Transportation Security Administration. A spokesperson at the national level, however, said it's too soon to tell.
"All I can tell you about locally is we're not going to have any work force reductions here. Right now I'm understaffed," Lee Duffy, TSA federal security director in the Virgin Islands, said on Friday.
A representative of TSA's Southeastern Region, which includes the territory, said decision makers are still determining where cuts should be made out of the total of 54,000 federal screeners that have been hired since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"That's something they couldn't answer for you right now," TSA regional spokesperson Lauren Stover said. "Those decisions can be made as early as next week. Right now, we're working around the clock to evaluate the work force and see where we need to possibly redeploy screeners and what kinds of scheduling requirements are needed at the various airports."
Word of the pending layoffs came before a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday from the TSA administrator, Adm. James M. Loy. By Friday TSA officials were trying to allay the anxieties of their workers.
The federal agency reached its mandate of a fully federalized airport screener work force last Nov. 19. Congress set a cap of 45,000 full-time screener positions last year. The TSA, however, also hired 9,000 "temporary" employees, most of them on five-year contracts, according to published reports.
The game plan now, according to TSA officials, is to reduce the current work force of about 54,000 to 51,000 in coming days, and to 48,000 by October 2004.
Loy told the House Appropriations subcommittee that layoff notices could begin going out as soon as Tuesday.
In a letter sent to screeners nationwide on Friday, Loy said: "I have monitored the work of an internal task force wrestling with the challenge of how to reduce our work force by up to 3,000 positions. The group is working hard on your behalf. I have directed them to review carefully the staffing needed to stand up our screener force across the country and to note especially airports where the force is greater than the model requires."
Stover said decision makers are looking at options including moving screeners from one airport to another, making some positions part-time and/or achieving work force reductions through attrition.
Duffy said he could not comment on policies being set for his agency at the national level. He said his focus is on making sure his screeners get the job done at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix.
Information could not be obtained on the number of TSA screeners now in place at the two airports. Last summer, when screening services were still privately contracted, there were 31 screeners and three supervisors on St. Thomas and 14 screeners and three supervisors on St. Croix. All were employees of Worldwide Flight Services Inc., which held contracts with the airlines for the service.
All TSA screeners working in the Virgin Islands were locally hired, according to Joanne Bohr, Worldwide Flight Services general manager. Bohr said on Friday that 13 of her screeners — 11 on St. Thomas and two on St. Croix — made it through the application and evaluation processes to qualify for the TSA jobs, with posted salaries ranging from $23,000 to $35,400.
"A lot has been portrayed about federal versus private, and I lost good agents," Bohr said, "but the TSA has done a tremendous job."
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