Don has worked in airport security for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ever since shortly after 9/11, when responsibility for airport security was transferred from privately run companies to the Federal government. Before working for the TSA, Don held airport security jobs in the private sector for many years.
A ten-year background security check is required for anyone applying for a TSA position. As part of the hiring process, applicants must pass a drug test. While working for the TSA, employees are also subject to random drug tests. There are other tests too.
“I work as a checkpoint screener at Seattle Tacoma airport and the TSA is currently understaffed for security positions. A lot of people are being terminated because they can’t pass the qualifications test for the training program. You can flunk once, and then they send you through recurrent training. If you don’t pass it the second time, you’re terminated.” Depending on the budget restrictions for that airport, not everyone who’s terminated is replaced by a new hire. That adds to the shortage of workers.
Since taking over airport security, the TSA has made adjustments over the last five years. “Restrictions on grooming standards have relaxed. It used to be that beards weren’t allowed and hair had to be a certain length,” explains Don. “That’s changed now because they lost so many people over that.”
What Don enjoys most about his job is meeting new people. “That’s a big part of the job. Of course, you’re working with the public, so if you’re a people-person like me, you just love it. I’m very respectful toward them and they respond to that. It also makes the job a lot easier. I like working in the airport, too. Anybody who has an airport badge gets a 10% discount at any of the airport stores.”
The TSA furnishes security personnel with uniforms. Most employees arrive to work already in uniform. Security employees are given a small stipend to cover uniform replacement and maintenance.
“Every four hours you get a break, so you don’t have to stand the entire shift. They try to schedule shifts around the peak times. The ones who are working the checkpoints, now they do a lot of standing and moving. There are several security positions at checkpoints. You’ve got the X-ray monitors, the hand wanders, you’ve got the people who do the bag search, and you’ve got the people who do the EDD.” The EDD or Explosive Detection Device is a handheld device that checks for explosive residue on passengers. That can indicate the person recently handled bomb-making materials.
“They move people around so they’re not doing the same job all the time. We’re looking for knives, guns, explosives, that sort of thing. That weighs on a lot of people We’re always looking for the bad guys, but at the same time, we have to be respectful toward people. It’s a challenge sometimes, but we know it’s important. You can really make a difference doing what we do. I like having a job that means something.”