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Feds take control of airport security

A young passenger watches a baggage screening X-ray at Boston's Logan airport.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The federal government began taking over security at the nation's airports Sunday, more than five months after terrorists hijacked U.S. airlines and slammed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The change was mandated in November when Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, creating the Transportation Security Administration and authorizing it to assume from the airlines re-negotiated contracts with private security companies.

While the same screeners remain on the job for now, TSA head John Magaw said the biggest difference with the government in charge would be consistency.

"You had 60 companies all around the country doing slightly different things, and there was no one oversight or one advisory group, one controlling unit," Magaw said after meeting with screeners at Washington Dulles International Airport. "Now you have that."

A U.S. military policeman stands guard at Logan Airport.  

Government-employed screeners do not have to be in place at the nation's 429 airports until November 19.

To smooth the transition, 436 interim airport security managers are now on the job to meet with airlines, airport managers and security companies.

"We'll have to work very closely with a good team, community effort, to make sure that the public is well served," said Ben DeCosta, general manager of Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. "Hopefully any of the wrinkles can be ironed out quickly."

U.S. officials have pledged to replace screeners from embattled private security companies, such as Argenbright Security, as early as this spring.

Earlier this month, a Department of Transportation official said Argenbright is "finished with the federal government," following a string of high-profile security lapses and the company's admission it had hired felons.

The U.S. government officially took control of the screening process at the nation's airports. CNN's Kathleen Koch reports (February 18)

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Some have expressed concern that the TSA will simply hire screeners formerly employed by private security companies like Argenbright, which employed 40 percent of the nation's airport screeners and used untrained personnel, according to investigators.

Given the current guidelines, Magaw said the government might have trouble finding enough qualified people to fill the 40,000 openings for screener positions.

Applicants for the new posts must be U.S. citizens, speak and write English proficiently, have 40 hours of classroom screening and possess a high school diploma or equivalent work experience.

The TSA said it will also soon begin hiring 81 directors to manage security at each major airport. The agency said it has already received nearly 10,000 applications for these positions.

Magaw said the government's policy is flexible, saying changes could be made to ensure airport security is not compromised.

"We're going to be watching the operation," he said. "If we see things that need to be changed, we're going to change them."


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