March 16, 2006
Emily Ryan
(202) 639-6421

Screener Union Foresaw GAO Study One Year Ago

(Washington)—“Federal airport screeners are not trained for, nor do they have the equipment to detect explosives and other such material,” American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National President John Gage said today in response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that found security screeners at 21 U.S. airports failed to find bomb-making materials.

“TSA has done its job training screeners to detect metal objects, but that’s not enough,” Gage said. “We’re not all that surprised that these airports failed the GAO test since they don’t have the equipment to detect plastic and other non-metal material. AFGE has long advocated the use of ‘puffer’ explosive detectors; unfortunately TSA has yet to widely install the machines. At this point, Congress should direct TSA to rapidly deploy such equipment. The technology is there, TSA just needs to start using it.

“In addition to the lack of equipment, federal screeners are not even trained to deal with explosives. Most airports do not have a ‘bomb safe room’. If a screener detected a bomb, he or she wouldn’t know what to do with it,” Gage said.

“It is clear that TSA doesn’t take this seriously,” he added. “The agency seems to be more concerned with presenting the public with the appearance of security rather than making sure the appropriate security measures are taken. Federal airport screeners are hampered by TSA’s mismanagement and inability to get the job done.”

Last May AFGE released a white paper that stated, among other things, that screeners were not properly trained and that they lacked the best available equipment. AFGE also argued that if the screeners were afforded collective bargaining rights—as all other federal employees are—and meaningful whistleblower protections that they would have a voice in the workplace, would not be disciplined for pointing out weaknesses in security procedure and practice, and could apply their wisdom and experience to strengthen the security of this nation.

AFGE is the only union that has actively fought on behalf of employment rights for TSA's screeners. Although screeners remain deprived of a collective bargaining agreement, AFGE represents screeners before the Disciplinary Review Board, EEOC, courts, in Congress and in the media.

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