The incentive pay was authorized earlier this year to ensure a smooth and safe transition at airports, Transportation Security Administration spokesman Jonathan Thompson said Sunday.
The extra pay is aimed at boosting morale, preventing screeners from bailing out of their jobs months or weeks before federally trained workers replace them, and encouraging the private companies that employ the screeners to maintain their current staffing levels.
Officials recognized from the time the fledgling Transportation Security Administration took over responsibility for airline security on Feb. 17 that something would have to be done to entice private screeners and their employers to stay on the job through the November deadline.
"It's actually not been as bad a problem as we'd planned on," Thompson said. "We'd planned on the worst, and we've had an overwhelming, 95 percent-plus, stay on the jobs."
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress ordered the government to replace private airport screeners with federal employees at all commercial airports by Nov. 19. Thompson said he had no figures on how many security screeners would receive the bonuses, which could average about $500, depending upon a person's skills and competency.
The money is to be paid out only after the federal government assumes control of airport security so that the screeners don't pocket the money and leave the job to find work elsewhere.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport on April 30 became the first in the country to have federal workers in charge of screening passengers. Thompson said some of the displaced private screeners there were awarded bonuses for having stayed on until that point.
News that the government is paying the bonuses was first reported Sunday by the Chicago Tribune.
Screeners, who are typically among the lowest-paid workers at airports, must have been on the job at least since Feb. 17 and stay through the government takeover to get a bonus.
Some may be eligible to continue as federal employees after reapplying for the job if they are found to be qualified and are U.S. citizens, are fluent in English and have a high school diploma or equivalent.
The Transportation Security Administration reported to Congress this month that it will need 57,500 employees to screen airline passengers and luggage. It said it needs 30,000 workers to staff airport checkpoints and another 27,500 to inspect checked luggage for explosives.
Written by John Heilprin