In an unprecedented move to improve airport security, TSA is training all its new screeners at one centralized academy. It was created after a number of missteps that raised doubts about the agency's ability to properly screen airline passengers. CBS News got the first access to the training academy on the grounds of the federal law enforcement training centers in Glynco, Georgia.
The basic training is a two-week course, and at the center point of the training academy is a fully functional TSA checkpoint. In doing a top-to-bottom review, the TSA found gaps in training and proficiency with the equipment. The academy aims to change that, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.
It's an explosive lesson on the dangers the soon-to-be airport screeners will be asked to help prevent. The nearly 200 students assembled are some of the first to go through the new TSA training academy.
"It's controlled chaos. ... It's a very difficult job," 19-year-old Yasmine Cerda said. "It's a challenge. But it's a rewarding challenge."
This is the first time since the agency's reaction post-9/11 that the TSA has centralized training of newly hired screeners who make between $31,000 to $45,000 a year. Previously, they were trained largely on the job at the airport where they'd work.
The academy opened in January as the TSA tries to recover from a series of high-profile embarrassments, including two officers fired for allegedly groping passengers in Denver and a damning inspector general investigation where screeners failed to catch potential threats in 67 out of 70 tests.
"Those are bad results," said Peter Neffenger, who took over as administrator following that report.
"So what I've tried to do is refocus on the mission," Neffenger added. "I said, what is a screener's job is to ensure that something that shouldn't get past the checkpoint doesn't get past."
"The IG, if they're going through checkpoints today with one of their teams trying to bring things that should be flagged...will those things be caught?" Van Cleave asked.
"I think we'll catch them today," Neffenger said.
"All of them?" Van Cleave said.
"I don't know if we catch everything. I sure hope we catch all of them. My testing has told us that we have dramatically improved," said Neffenger, who said screeners have caught the "vast majority" of illegal items.
For instructor Shawn Weeks Freeman, the success of the 5,400 new TSA screeners who will be trained here this year is personal. She was a flight attendant on a Pan Am Flight 830 on August 11, 1982, and was just a few rows away when a bomb went off on board. A 16-year-old passenger died and more than a dozen others were hurt.
"When I talk to my class, I tell them, you're not here by accident, and I wasn't saved at that moment by accident because that threat in 1982 is today's threat still," Weeks Freeman said.
Students have to pass written and practical tests on the equipment at the academy. If they don't, they will not become airport screeners. The goal is to bring all 45,000 transportation security officers here over the next several years.