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TSA Seen as Shunning Furloughs of Airport Security Workers

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March 13 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is trying to avoid furloughs as it absorbs its share of across-the-board U.S. budget cuts, a union representative said.

The agency will focus first on freezing hiring, cutting overtime and eliminating bonuses and travel for training, said Stacy Bodtmann, a regional vice president who represents TSA workers at the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal-employee union.

The trade-off may still lead to longer lines at airport security checkpoints, Bodtmann said today at a press conference in Washington. The agency relies on overtime to fill gaps in staffing, and the hiring freeze promises to exacerbate the situation, she said.

“I see it already -- little increases in wait times -- and it’s eventually going to get worse,” said Bodtmann, a TSA screener at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, which she said is short as many as 75 workers due to hiring freezes.

Bodtmann said she was aware of the agency’s plans from conversations with officials at the Homeland Security Department, which includes the TSA.

The automatic spending cuts triggered March 1 would total $85 billion in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year, and $1.2 trillion over nine years, assuming Congress and President Barack Obama don’t agree before then on an alternative. The reductions would be divided equally between defense and domestic programs.

Airport Lines

TSA will freeze hiring, reduce overtime and make other cuts across the agency, said Marsha Catron, a Homeland Security spokeswoman.

The TSA hasn’t discussed any immediate plans for furloughs.

The hiring freeze is expected to result in as many as 1,000 transportation security officer vacancies by the U.S. Memorial Day weekend and as many as 2,600 by the end of the fiscal year, Catron said. The agency has about 45,000 security officers.

“As the hiring freeze and reductions in overtime take effect, travelers can expect to see lines and wait times increase, particularly during the busy summer travel season,” Catron said.

Travelers probably won’t see immediate effects at airport checkpoints, “but lines and wait times will increase as reductions to overtime and the inability to backfill positions for attrition occur,” David Castelveter, a TSA spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Federal agencies such as the TSA rely on overtime, said J. David Cox Sr., national president of the Washington-based federal union.

Working “overtime is a way of life” for many federal employees, Cox said at the press conference.

To contact the reporters on this story: Danielle Ivory in Washington at divory@bloomberg.net; Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Stoughton at sstoughton@bloomberg.net

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