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"New era of security at Phoenix Sky Harbor starts at midnight"


 
Friday, December 14, 2001

New era of security at Sky Harbor starts at midnight 
By Tom Zoellner
The Arizona Republic


Argenbright Security is to leave Sky Harbor International Airport for
good at midnight on Friday, turning control of the metal detectors over
to a new security firm that hired half the replacement team from the
Argenbright ranks.

But the long-awaited switch in security firms, described by many airport
employees as simply a change in uniform color, will be small in
comparison to the changes that occur when the federal government takes
over aviation security operations within two months.

Sky Harbor will be home to a branch office of the new Transportation
Security Administration, which will manage an expected 500 federal
employees charged with screening passengers for weapons and checking
every piece of luggage for bombs. 

"This is going to be a very, very interesting time," said Phoenix
Aviation Director David Krietor. "A huge federal bureaucracy will be
overlaid onto the complex operations of the airport. It's going to be a
very challenging year."

WorldWide Security Associates, the company that replaced Argenbright on
Friday, will have its contract with the airlines taken over by the
federal government on Feb. 17.

The new TSA - ironically, the same acronym for the local Tourism and
Sports Authority that butted heads with the airport over the Arizona
Cardinals football stadium earlier this year - is scheduled to
federalize all 28,000 of the airport's security screeners by Nov. 19,
2002. But details on how government-run security will differ from that
provided by private contractors are still forthcoming.

President Bush this week nominated John Magaw, the 66-year-old former
head of the U.S. Secret Service, to run the new agency. He awaits
confirmation by the Senate and has so far declined to answer questions
publicly.

The TSA will be a sub-agency within the Department of Transportation
instead of the Department of Justice, disappointing some critics who
feared the transportation department would be too beholden to the
interests of the airlines.

One congressional mandate for the new agency is to screen all checked
baggage for explosives by Jan. 18. But federal officials doubt whether
enough bomb-detecting machines can be deployed by then. Sky Harbor has
only two.

Other looming questions include how many of the private employees will
qualify for federal jobs, whether screeners will be armed and whether
the National Guard detachments in the nation's airports will be needed.

"The bottom line is that nobody knows how it's going to work," said
Krietor.

The transition from Argenbright to WorldWide, meanwhile, was reported to
be going smoothly. WorldWide took over the X-ray machines in Terminal 2
without incident on Dec. 4 and was preparing to assume its first shift
in Terminal 3 late Friday.

Airport officials revoked Argenbright's commercial-use permit on Oct.
14, one day after federal prosecutors revealed details of the company's
inability to fix pervasive problems with its personnel standards in 13
airports nationwide, including Phoenix. 

Argenbright fought the loss of its $6 million contract for several weeks
until Krietor made it clear the city would not back down. Officials at
Logan International Airport in Boston evicted Argenbright for poor
performance Thursday. 

"I think its unfortunate the city's decision to replace Argenbright was
more of a political decision than one based on the facts," said company
spokesman Brian Lott. "However, the company promised to ensure a smooth
transition to another security partner in conjunction with our airline
partners and we have kept that commitment."

Part of the transition was a general job offer made by WorldWide to all
of the former Argenbright employees. All the shift supervisors are new
hires, but of the 123 front-line screeners, 62 are old Argenbright
employees, said WorldWide CEO Mike Ferrua. 

"They're keeping the same people - only the name changes," said
80-year-old screener Tony Sasso on his last day at work Friday.

Unlike many of his colleagues Sasso will not be going to work for
WorldWide. His problems with asthma have made it hard for him to show up
for work every single day, he said. He was bitter that the new company
declined to hire him, even despite his 18-year work history at Sky
Harbor.

"When I'm here, I run this place like its my own business," he said, as
he called for a hand search a wheelchair-bound passenger. "Nothing gets
by this old man."


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