Unemployment in Guam is at 7.7% airport security jobs are paying upwards of $11 an hour but hundreds of workers in Guam and Saipan can’t pass the exams for high-paying federal jobs.

400 people took the Transportation Security Administration test on Guam in September and 107 people took the same exam that month in Saipan.

Of that number 60 passed in Guam and only two in Saipan. The two individuals that passed the test in Saipan were reportedly gas station attendants.

The Transportation Security Administration has had problems finding suitable employees in Guam since it first began the hunt for personnel (in 2002). Of 8 000 Guam applicants then only 90 were locally hired — requiring the transfer to Guam of 110 personnel for the States to meet its target of 200.

Adolf P. Sgambelluri federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration told the Journal testing procedures that screen applicants might be too difficult for residents on Guam.

TSA officials told the Journal in 2002 the national pass rate for the first part of the test was 15% [spatial recognition of shapes]. Eugene Maestrecampo a TSA screener for two years said when he took the test on Guam only nine people passed the first part and only three were finally hired. He said the test was difficult. “The initial X-ray test is the hardest portion of the test — you are shown an object and you have 30 seconds to describe it. If you’ve never seen it before and are unaccustomed to the quick-paced sequence required it’s not surprising that people fail.”

Once hired screeners are re-tested every six months. Failure means dismissal creating job uncertainty that leads to an attrition rate of 10% — on average nationally screeners stay four-and-a-half months.

He said the whole issue of the test — and whether it is fair to local applicants — is out of his hands.

“There is nothing we as local management have to do with the hiring procedure. I don’t even know when these headhunters are going to come to Guam.”

The last recruiting visit to the area took place in the last week of September.

Sgambelluri said he did not know tests were due to take place until hundreds of candidates called and stopped by his airport office asking where testing would be held. “It is really unfair that they don’t even call me nor did they check in ” he said.

“I was told the last time they came out 5 000 people showed up. What’s funny is [this time] I had 350 people show up at our door here at the airport like lost sheep.”

Tests are administered by Comprehensive Personnel Services based in Sacramento Calif.

CPS is a U.S. government agency that operates independently to provide “recruitment examination testing assessment staffing and human resource services to public agencies.” The company was selected by the Transportation Security Administration in January 2002 to “recruit hire and assess a workforce committed to providing the best possible service to air-line travelers ” its Web site stated.

A two-day career fair was held for TSA entry-level positions on Guam at the Westin Resort Guam Sept. 29 and 30 and at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Saipan on Sept. 23 and 24. Minimum requirements for consideration included U.S. citizenship or permanent residency; a high school diploma or general education diploma equivalent or one year of security or aviation screening experience proficiency in English and the ability to pass a background and credit check. A team of six from the U.S. organized the Guam fair.

According to CPS the test is designed to find the most qualified candidates for further advancement eventually leading to an offer of employment. The pre-employment screening and testing is composed of three sections: an image certification test aptitude/psychological and motivational skills. Preference is given to applicants with a military or law enforcement background and by law one third of staff must be female.

“They [CPS] come in and do testing — a spatial reasoning test where candidates are asked to distinguish objects against various backgrounds.” Sgambelluri said They are also asked to follow simple instructions. Most don’t know how to do that so they fail. If a candidate makes it to the next stage they are tested psychiatrically.”

The compensation package offered by TSA comes with a minimum starting salary of $11.30 to $16.96 per hour plus benefits. That’s an annual salary of $23 600 to $36 400 depending upon experience plus locality pay. In addition security screeners receive federal benefits including health insurance life insurance and retirement vacation and sick leave.

President George W. Bush signed the legislation that enabled the TSA — the Aviation Transportation Security Act — on Nov. 19 2001. Immediately following thousands of federalized screeners were hired at the nation’s 472 commercial airports.

Sgambelluri said 45 000 people were initially hired in the United States but many adjustments have been made over the past three years. “As we continue to assess precisely what we have in place to meet the security demands of the nation and the budgetary constraints of TSA there may be realignment.”

In the early days 350 people were supposed to be assigned to Guam. “Then someone figured out that Guam was supposed to have 200 and Honolulu 350 so they switched the allotted billets and took people away from us ” he said.

Now 181 people work for TSA Guam; 11 are members of the management team; the rest are classified as either regulatory personnel or screeners. In Saipan 48 work for TSA which is well below the 80 needed to smoothly run the checkpoint at the Saipan International Airport.

Regulatory employees are involved with internal affairs aircraft and cargo inspection and inspection of screeners to ensure compliance with standard operating procedures security directives and congressional federal register directives.

Sgambelluri said he could not comment on the exams but was happy with the staff selected. “It’s my job to make sure we have a safe airport with the people assigned. How those people got to work for TSA is not my job. I can say that we have good people here and that someone is doing a pretty good job judging from the people I have seen with TSA.”

Not being involved in the hiring process is a good thing Sgambelluri said because he and his staff can’t be accused of unfair hiring practices or helping friends and relatives get security screening jobs. “Actually when I think about it this keeps us honest — no pare system no nepotism. It’s all above board.”

Sgambelluri lacks sufficient staff he said.

“I am in need of additional people because we are doing reverse screening. Because the Republic of Palau does not screen to the standards that we do their arrivals must be screened before entering the sterile airport environment. Also those passengers coming from Rota must also be reverse screened because Rota has no TSA personnel.”

He said the region has seen administrative changes. “Initially I was told when I first got the job that Guam was to be a hub and Saipan was to be a spoke. But somewhere up the chain of command that got changed and Saipan became a hub with Tinian and Rota as spokes. We have nothing to do with the Northern Mariana Islands now.”

Now that tourism numbers have returned to pre-9/11 levels of more than 1 million travelers annually Sgambelluri is coordinating with Jesse Q. Torres executive manager at the Guam International Airport Authority to have the category classification of the airport changed.

“Currently we are a Category 1 airport facility but we have the numbers to support a re-designation as a Category X. This means more federal funding for the airport more security personnel for my screening ” Sgambelluri said. “I would like to get more check points.” MBJ