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Guard may remain at some airports through May

Updated:

WASHINGTON (AP) _ National Guard troops are likely to remain on guard in some airports until the end of May at the behest of the Bush administration.

The troops, who normally operate under state jurisdiction, originally were to be withdrawn later this month, but the Transportation Security Administration asked for the extension.

Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner said Wednesday the agency and the Guard will work out a phased withdrawal, ending by May 31.

Meanwhile, the National Governor's Association asked President Bush on Wednesday not to call National Guard troops to federal duty to help with border security.

The governors asked Bush to allow the border call-ups to be handled by states, with reimbursement from the federal government, as is being done with the units at airports.

More than 1,500 National Guard troops are already being mobilized for the border duty, the governors said.

Bush has asked governors to keep some Guard troops on duty at airports through the end of May rather than the end of March, according to a memo from Maj. Gen. Raymond Rees, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau.

Bush called on the Guard shortly after Sept. 11. Governors stationed about 6,000 troops at more than 400 commercial airports. The number rose to around 9,000 during the busy Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. The federal government covered the $270 million cost.

Army Secretary Thomas White asked Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta in January to relieve the Guard of its security role.

But Rees said the transportation agency needed the Guard to stay a little longer. ``The Transportation Security Administration is presently unable to assume the security duties being performed by the National Guard,'' he said in his memo.

That new federal agency is hiring directors to run security at each airport, and more than 30,000 federal employees to screen passengers and luggage. The agency faces a congressional deadline of Nov. 19 to replace the current private security screeners with a better-trained, higher-paid federal work force. Officials said the first security directors could be hired this month and the first federal screeners could be at airport checkpoints by May or June.

An official with the American Association of Airport Executives, an industry group, said the National Guard troops would fill the gap until the new screeners and security directors were in place.

``We don't want to go from a heightened level of visible security to nothing waiting for this new federal force to be hired,'' said Carter Morris, vice president for regulatory affairs.
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