Monday, December 25, 2006 Transportation Security Administration a secure career path By JO DEE BLACK The Great Falls (MT) Tribune Retired Navy man Wayne Olson joined the Transportation Security Administration more than four years ago when the organization was a fledgling agency. "I started in Missoula and we had no office," he recalled. "We literally sat in chairs in the airport lobby." Fast forward to 2006. Airline passengers are now accustomed to the tighter security measures implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The TSA handles screening duties once handled by private contractors hired by airlines. That's not all that's changed. Today the TSA offers endless career opportunities, good salaries, incentives and a chance to serve with country, Olson says. "This is a great organization offering world class security and customer service," he said. Olson left the top TSA post at the Great Falls International Airport last week. He's now a program analyst working at TSA headquarters in Washington, D.C. "I'll be writing standard operating procedures for screening at this nation's 450 airports," Olson said. The promotion gives Olson a chance to indulge his history buff passion in the nation's capital. "It's also nice that the agency chose someone with practical experience in the field for this assignment," he said. Ask him about working for TSA and Olson begins to sound like a recruiter. "Officers, who used to be called screeners, begin in Montana at $14 an hour," he said. "Once you are hired in the position, you can transfer within the federal government to other officer positions." The TSA employs 31 people at the Great Falls International Airport. Of those, 60 percent are full time. "Nationwide, the TSA has 45,000 employees with about a 20 percent turnover," Olson said. "We have a much lower turnover in Great Falls, so the advancement opportunities are limited. That's not the case within the agency, however." TSA officers need to be flexible, Olson said. "At smaller airports, officer have to work split shifts," he said. "They have to work overtime. Work hours change when there are weather delays. But the pay and benefits make it worth while." TSA provides an annual cost-of-living raise and has a bonus program. "If officers pass their annual re-certification test, they get a $500 bonus," Olson said. "There are performance bonuses. I also received a separate budget for awards based on how officers present themselves at the check points, their willingness to volunteer for duties, the way they interact with other officers." Art Hernandez is the deputy acting security manager for the TSA in Great Falls. He joined the agency two and a half years ago after retiring from the U.S. Air Force. "I wanted to be associated with an organization other than the military that contributes to this nation's defense," he said. His current career allows him to use the skills he gained in his previous one with the Air Force security force. "But with this organization, I get to work with people and have a direct impact on their safety and experience," Hernandez said. Security is an expanding field, he said. "The TSA is opening new ground; now there will be officers in the rail system," he said. "There are plenty of opportunities in this agency to grow and move forward." Attached Photo: Art Hernandez is the acting director of the local TSA at the Great Falls International Airport.