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15 Minutes For Airport Bomb Training?

Some airport screeners have spent just 15 minutes learning how to spot bombs in baggage.

The screeners, members of the Transportation Security Administration's Mobile Screening Force that moves from airport to airport, are checking baggage in Dallas, Providence, R.I., and Norfolk, Va. The team is meant to serve as a model for the federal takeover of airport security.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that some of the screeners working at the Norfolk airport were given "abbreviated training."

The federal Aviation and Transportation Security Act requires security screeners to have 40 hours of training in the classroom and 60 hours of training on the job.

Transportation administration spokesman Greg Warren said screeners who check passengers are required to have 100 hours of training. He acknowledged that some members of the screening force "have had abbreviated training," but said they were operating baggage screening machines and were not screening passengers.

He said that eventually, all the members of the screening force will complete the training.

"The level of training that they've received in how to run the equipment is adequate for the (Norfolk) pilot program," Warren said.

The manufacturers of the bomb detection machines recommend between two and six hours of training. Screeners at the Dallas and Providence airports say they received additional instruction in using the equipment.

Gary Burns, a spokesman for Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee said the short training could lead to cracks in the security system.

"If the people doing the job are saying they're not getting enough training, I think any citizen would be concerned about that," he said.

The newspaper said the Norfolk screeners have said they were never tested or certified to operate bomb-detection equipment.

Heather Rosenker, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Agency, said the Norfolk screeners did not make independent decisions and were constantly being watched by people who are experts at baggage screening.

The federal takeover of airport screening, previously done by employees of private companies, is supposed to improve security because of better training of screeners. More than 50,000 screeners need to be deployed at U.S. airports before the end of the year. Only 16,500 have been hired so far.

"Is this what the taxpayers paid $3 billion in the past year for — to put federal screeners out there who are less qualified than the screeners working for private companies?" said aviation security consultant Charles Slepian. "It's an outrage."

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