As a federal security screener at the New Orleans airport, Weber, 62, could report for duty at any U.S. airport and be guaranteed a job for six months.
The Transportation Security Administration calls it the "Safe Haven" program, and it has helped Weber and other screeners find some stability after the storm.
The program — in place for several years — adds some extra cost to the TSA's budget, although the agency is paying New Orleans screeners their full salary whether they are working at another airport or not.
Each of the 12 screeners who relocated to Atlanta gets a daily housing and food allowance of up to $164, depending on how much help they're also getting from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the Red Cross. The allowance varies by city, based on a cost-of-living formula.
"Everyone's arms have been wide open and welcoming," Weber said of his new co-workers in Atlanta. "They just opened up the love gates."
Weber says he has had it easier than some of his former New Orleans colleagues. One was rescued from the roof of her home as the floodwaters rose. The TSA provides counseling and has helped the new workers find housing and paid their travel expenses — including Weber's $3.30-a-gallon gas on his trip to Atlanta.
Each of the screeners went through a brief orientation, then began working at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport's main checkpoint. Weber started Sept. 19. Like Weber, most of the New Orleans screeners do the early morning shift, 3:30 a.m. to noon.
"They're just pretty much grateful they have a place to go and a job to go to," said Bill Lyons, an organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees who has met with some of the new Atlanta screeners.
Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport received the biggest number of former New Orleans screeners — 21.
The program helps Hartsfield-Jackson, which has reduced its screener force because of a federally imposed cap on hiring. The New Orleans screeners don't count against Atlanta's limit, said TSA spokesman Christopher White.
They'll be especially needed come Thanksgiving, which is expected to be the busiest since 2000.
Weber was on duty at the New Orleans airport before Hurricane Katrina hit.
After the last plane left, he unplugged metal detectors to protect them from power surges and moved equipment away from windows. He and his co-workers then retreated to an airport Hilton hotel where they ate cold sandwiches and watched the storm through plate glass windows.
"It looked like a normal hurricane," said the lifelong New Orleans resident. Because they only had sporadic news from the radio and cellphones, it was days before he realized the extent of the damage.
Weber's family members, including his 82-year-old mother, left the city before the storm hit. His mother's home in the upper Ninth Ward and his apartment were destroyed.
For now, Weber has found comfort in the New Orleans-style decor of his entrepreneur daughter's Buckhead home, with its elaborate fireplace mantels in every room and antiques and artwork from the French Quarter.
He soon will move into his own apartment. If his mother is willing to relocate to Atlanta, he may decide to stay here, he said.
Weber said he finds some solace in the belief that, in an uncertain world, he at least is helping to make the skies safer for travelers.
"Air safety is something we can control," he said. "The weather we can't control."
Federal Law Enforcement Pay, Benefits in Need of Overhaul, Report Says
By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, October 26, 2005; B02
Pay and benefits provided to federal law enforcement officers should be revamped to make government service more attractive and to foster "common-sense parity" in employment practices, according to a congressional paper.
Law enforcement compensation has been shaped by "an inflexible patchwork of outdated concepts" that do not meet the needs of federal agents, investigators and police officers and hinder homeland security "in today's post-9/11 environment," the paper said.
The 25-page paper was prepared by the Republican staffs of the House and Senate federal workforce panels in hopes that it will serve as a catalyst for a wide-ranging debate on how to update law enforcement pay and retirement systems in ways that can be backed by employee groups, the Bush administration and members of Congress.
The subcommittees are chaired by Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and Jon Porter (R-Nev.). Their aides have said they hope a consensus can be forged that will lead to a bill within the next few months.
Across government, there are about 106,000 law enforcement officers, with about half in the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Over the years, there has been some confusion about how to define and classify law enforcement jobs. For example, some officers carry weapons and can make arrests but are excluded from special pay and pensions provided to federal law enforcement officers.
In addition, entry-level pay can vary significantly, and overall federal law enforcement pay lags behind that offered by state and local governments in several metropolitan areas.
As Defense and Homeland Security adopt more flexible pay systems in the next few years that could offer higher salary scales and bonuses to their law enforcement officers, the changes could lead to morale problems at other agencies, some officials have said.
The congressional paper offers a range of proposals to address such issues, starting with the premise that all executive branch employees in law enforcement would be covered by a single system.
Law enforcement officers would be defined as federal employees with arrest authority and engaged in the prevention, detection or investigation of violations of criminal law and in protecting U.S. officials against threats.
The director of the Office of Personnel Management would be required to set up the new law enforcement pay system, including an evaluation system for judging the performance of officers, the paper said.
The goal, the paper said, would be to "evaluate quality of work, rather than quantity of work. For example, agencies may not evaluate law enforcement officers on the number of arrests made." In addition, the new system should be designed to foster teamwork and cooperative attitudes among law enforcement personnel, the paper said.
To help OPM, the paper calls for creation of a "federal law enforcement pay and retirement council" staffed with agency officials, experts and management and employee representatives. Part of its job would be to ensure that the system was consistent with pay and classification methods adopted at Defense and Homeland Security, the paper said.
Salaries and pay increases would be based on job performance ratings and local and special geographic supplements, the paper said. To assist officers who have to move often because of their jobs, the paper called for creation of a "housing allowance program" to help them buy homes.
A new retirement program for officers would split them into two tiers with different eligibility requirements and pensions, the paper said. One retirement option would provide more generous pensions for some groups, such as Customs and Border Protection officers, who currently do not qualify for law enforcement retirement.