Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Some airport screeners raised rates for feds

Attorney says boosts were justified

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON - Some private companies that screen airline passengers are charging more for their services now that the government is footing the bill, says a federal report that found one company nearly doubled its rates.

        The Transportation Department's inspector general also found cases in which the companies billed the government for absent employees and work that was never completed. And it found lax oversight by government officials.

        Before Sept. 11, private companies had contracts with airlines to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. After the terrorist attacks, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration, which was ordered to take over the contracts, worth $1.6 billion, and to hire a federal work force to assume passenger screening duties in more than 400 airports by Nov. 19.

        According to Alexis Stefani, the Transportation Department's assistant inspector general for auditing, the companies raised their rates for labor and overhead when the government started paying the bills in February. One company nearly doubled its overhead rate to $28 an hour and raised employee pay from $10 to $14.

        The inspector general's staff visited six unidentified contractors at two undisclosed airports and found no government supervision while contractor employees arrived late, left early and signed in as though they worked an entire shift.

        Kenneth Quinn, an attorney representing several screening companies, said the higher costs are justified. He said security screeners were vastly underpaid before Sept. 11 because of pressure from the airlines to reduce costs.

        Many of the privately employed screeners are getting jobs as federal screeners, earning between $23,600 and $35,400 a year plus benefits. As private-sector screeners they generally earned about $10,000 a year, and often received no benefits.


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