TSA bars more airports from converting to private security

While the TSA backed off on its Holiday travel grope-a-thon (more here), several airport authorities announced that they would be dropping TSA security for private screeners (more here). Since 2002 sixteen airports have replaced TSA screeners with private security and a larger number began considering similar moves.

Some of the nation’s biggest airports are responding to recent public outrage over security screening by weighing whether they should hire private firms such as Covenant to replace the Transportation Security Administration. Sixteen airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City International Airport, have made the switch since 2002. One Orlando airport has approved the change but needs to select a contractor, and several others are seriously considering it.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which governs Dulles International and Reagan National airports, is studying the option, spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said.

For airports, the change isn’t about money. At issue, airport managers and security experts say, is the unwieldy size and bureaucracy of the federal aviation security system. Private firms may be able to do the job more efficiently and with a personal touch, they argue.

Airports that choose private screeners must submit the request to the TSA. There are no specific criteria for approval, but federal officials can decide whether to grant the request “based on the airport’s record of compliance on security regulations and requirements.” The TSA pays for the cost of the screening and has the final say on which company gets the contract.

Up until last week the TSA has remained “neutral” on these moves. According to this story (from CNN) that has changed. TSA head John Pistone is shutting down the program because he “sees no advantage” in continuing it. No advantage, that is, for the TSA.

A program that allows airports to replace government screeners with private screeners is being brought to a standstill, just a month after the Transportation Security Administration said it was “neutral” on the program.TSA chief John Pistole said Friday he has decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports, saying he does not see any advantage to it.

“I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time,” Pistole said.

He said airports that currently use contractor screening will continue to be allowed to.

During the grope-a-thon brouhaha Rep. John Mica (R-FL) wrote a letter encouraging airports to dump the TSA in favor of private contractors. Mica is not amused with Pistone’s move to shut the program down.

Told of the change Friday night, Mica said he intends to launch an investigation and review the matter.

“It’s unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we’ve had over the last decade,” Mica said Friday night. “The agency should concentrate on cutting some of the more than 3,700 administrative personnel in Washington who concocted this decision, and reduce the army of TSA employees that has ballooned to more than 62,000.”

“Nearly every positive security innovation since the beginning of TSA has come from the contractor screening program,” Mica said.

Of course, the union that covers TSA employees supports Pistone’s decision.

A union for Transportation Security Administration employees said it supported the decision to halt the program.

“The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11,” said John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and work force.”

In its 9 year existence the TSA has not caught a single terrorist or prevented a single terrorist attack. They have, however, stopped a 4 year old boy with leg braces (potential terrorist) from boarding a plane to Orlando for a trip to Disney World (more here). And they’ve groped thousands of old folks and children because, you know, they may be terrorists. Even pilots and flight crews have been subject to TSA abuse, although they’ve been forced to modify those procedures (more here).

As with any other government agency, the TSA has been a miserable failure. At an annual cost of over $10B/yr it represents the type of low hanging fruit ripe for picking by congressional budget cutters. While private contractors may not provide a significant security advantage over the TSA, you can bet that they would be more responsive to the needs and concerns of the traveling public. You know, the folks who are paying for it.

tsa worker

TSA hard at work

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