Private security screeners get second chance to qualify for federal jobs

Some Wackenhut Corporation employees currently working at Lihu’e Airport were given second chances to take assessment tests that they passed, qualifying them for permanent, federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employment at the airport.

Other Wackenhut employees, and others outside of Wackenhut, learned about the selective re-assessments offered to the Wackenhut employees, and are upset they weren’t also given second chances after failing initial TSA assessments conducted by TSA contractor NCS Pearson.

At stake are high-paying federal security jobs with good benefits including a 23 percent cost of living allowance.

The alternatives for those current Wackenhut employees who did not pass the TSA tests, eventually, are finding other jobs, or the unemployment line.

There are also current TSA employees who worry that they will be bumped out of their jobs by those Wackenhut employees who passed the re-assessments.

Wallace G. Rezentes, Jr., former county finance director and current TSA assistant federal security director for screening, confirmed this week that some Wackenhut employees who failed the initial federal assessments were given a second chance, and that some of those employees passed the re-assessments and have been offered TSA jobs at Lihu’e Airport.

They recently underwent a week of training in Honolulu.

“Some Wackenhut screeners who met certain specific criteria were approved (by TSA) to be re-assessed a second time in Honolulu. That’s all I can say,” Rezentes said.

Some of them passed, and some did not, he added.

Wackenhut employees perform bag- and vehicle-search functions, and curbside security, at various locations at the airport, but eventually will be replaced by TSA employees.

“Eventually, the intent is for the TSA to take over the baggage-screening function that they (Wackenhut employees) presently perform,” Rezentes said.

The current Wackenhut contract with TSA runs through the end of this year, but may be extended, he said.

Those Wackenhut employees who passed the second assessment will not bump or displace any of the TSA screeners on the job now at Lihu’e Airport, Rezentes said.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government moved immediately to begin federalizing airport security jobs, forming the TSA and, more recently, the Department of Homeland Security.

Current Wackenhut screeners at Lihu’e Airport were guaranteed TSA employment at the airport if they passed rigorous assessment testing. Many of the current Wackenhut screeners, and many people outside of Wackenhut, failed the assessments.

There are 76 TSA screeners who passed the assessment now manning the front checkpoint and gate-screening areas at Lihu’e Airport, conducting passenger and baggage security screening.

Rezentes said he could not comment on a recent federal court decision ruling that eliminating non-U.S. citizens from consideration for TSA jobs was unconstitutional. The decision to first eliminate non-citizens from consideration for TSA jobs impacted many of the current Wackenhut screeners at Lihu’e Airport who are not U.S. citizens.

Tuesday, Nov. 19 was the deadline for federalizing security screeners at all 429 commercial airports in the United States.

Despite the ruffled feathers of some people who failed the TSA assessments, Rezentes feels the transition to federal screeners at Lihu’e Airport has proceeded smoothly.

“I think everything is going pretty well,” said Rezentes, adding that he has heard no complaints from the traveling public about the new security procedures.

“They feel confident and assured that they’ll be safe in their travels,” Rezentes said.

He also said that Lihu’e Airport will make the federally mandated deadline of Tuesday, Dec. 31 for installing equipment that will check all checked baggage for explosives.

That will require some construction at the airport, but may or may not require more new TSA workers, he added.

Representatives of the TSA are doing what needs to be done to ensure safe flying conditions, and to date the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau has not received any official complaints from visitors about the stricter procedures, said Sue Kanoho, KVB executive director.

“I am confident that security is ensured through the new procedures,” said Kanoho, adding that KVB representatives are working with local TSA officials to make sure any traveler trauma is minimized.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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