Federal Agents Now Patrol Gulfport Airport

The uniforms are different. Officials say the security guards are better trained. They're all U.S. citizens. And they all speak English. The Transporation Security Administration put those requirements in place right after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The goal was to make security at every airport screening area exactly the same.

Picayune's Jamie McDaniel stood in line outside the screening machines. "Anyone who goes into the sterile area has to go through the checkpoint," he said. Even new federal agents like McDaniel.

McDaniel once worked for the Gulfport Fire Department. Before that, he was in the Navy. Now, he's a federal screener stationed at Gulfport Biloxi International Airport. "My first responsibility is for national security," he said.

Right after the September 11th tragedy, Congress mandated that all airport screening areas be run by federally trained officers. So on Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration took over Gulfport's passenger screening machines.

Lucretia Lott is one of the new federal screeners. "Our responsibility is security," she said.

Lott and two dozen other uniformed officers went through 100 hours of classroom work and on the job training to learn what doesn't belong on an airplane. Their boss is deputy director Pat Baroco. At a news conference to introduce the new security agents, Baroco said, "One of the main goals of TSA is consistency throughout the country."

Prior to the arrival of the federal officers, the airlines were responsible for contracting out the screening process. Some of the contract employees made minimum wage. Now, a federal screener's starting salary is $25,000.

"It's a good pay level," said McDaniel. "I just enjoy working for the people."

Baroco said people skills were pushed during training classes. "TSA has put a heavy emphasis on customer service," he said.

One third of the Gulfport airport's old security team qualified for federal screening jobs. They're in training now for future assignments. Airport director Bruce Frallic said what they eventually do won't be much different than what they were doing before the feds took over. "You won't really notice a difference because they've been operating under TSA procedures since February of this year," said Frallic.

Gulfport Biloxi International Airport was about a month ahead of the November 19th deadline to change over to federal screeners. Next, the airport must install a new X-ray machine that screens checked baggage. The federal government wants that machine on line by December 31st.