Lawmaker: Use airport screeners better

"It's not how many personnel. It's how you use them," said Mica, a longtime critic of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which is charged with screening passengers and luggage at the nation's airports. "They need to be fo cusing totally on security."

Mica, for instance, said he wants TSA screeners to stop lifting bags onto and off the huge bomb- detection machines, arguing that is a job best done by nonsecurity personnel.

Newark Airport has a maximum allotment of 1,097 full-time screeners, but it often operates with far fewer due to attrition and injuries, according to local screeners and supervisors who have long complained of significant staffing shortages.

During a June hearing, Mica blasted the TSA for a failed pilot program to integrate a compact bomb-detection machine into Newark Airport's system, calling it "an absolute disaster ... that didn't demonstrate anything." But yesterday, Mica praised the TSA's local efforts to build a belt system to handle checked domestic luggage at Terminal C.

Currently, passengers must take domestic luggage from the ticket counter to the bomb-detection machine, where a TSA screener then clears and sends the bags onto a conveyor leading to the planes. The new system will automatically send the bags via belts from the ticket counter to the machines and then onto the planes.

Mark Hatfield, the TSA's federal security director at Newark Airport, estimated the project will take four months to complete.

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