Out of Control Policy Blog

Will Airports Punt TSA?

A detailed Washington Post article, As frustration grows, airports consider ditching TSA, points out that:

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.

The article is quite in depth, looking at the causes and the debate over this idea. The timing of course reflects the change in Congress. Again from the WaPo article:

Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has written to 200 of the nation's largest airports, urging them to consider switching to private companies.

The TSA was "never intended to be an army of 67,000 employees," he said. "If you look at [the TSA's] performance, have they ever stopped a terrorist? Anyone can get through," Mica said in an interview. "We've been very lucky, very fortunate. TSA should focus on its mission: setting up the protocol, adapting to the changing threats and gathering intelligence."

That is a shift that is long overdue. The TSA should never have taken over the hand's on work of checking passengers. They should be the one's overseeing/regulating airport security, analyzing intelligence, identifying risks, establishing priorities, even training agents to examine and question people in the airport looking for suspicious behavior that merits additional screening.  This is the kind of approach Reason proposed back in September 2002, one year after the 9/11 attacks.

Right now, no one is watching the watchmen. TSA is largely unaccountable and increasingly bloated and unresponsive. Their "let them eat cake" response to the arbitrary application of patdowns highlighted the problem, the likelihood that screeners will unionize and the union begin putting screeners ahead of the public is but the latest manifestation.

Privatizing the screeners would put TSA back in the proper role for a security agency and allow airports to get back to providing service to customers, with security integrated into that goal, not contradicting it. As the WaPo article concludes:

Orlando's two commercial airports, Orlando International and Orlando Sanford International, were bringing in Covenant and FirstLine last month for presentations on taking over airport security. Orlando Sanford approved the change to privatization in October, before the uproar over the TSA's screening methods even began.

Orlando Sanford President Larry Dale said private screening would be "more enjoyable" for the traveling public and potentially spur business.

"This country was built on competition, on private investment," Dale said, "and I've gotten a lot of complaints from passengers about the new screening. We're a business after all, and we have to look out for our customers."

Other airports, including Oklahoma City's Will Rogers World Airport and Indianapolis International Airport, have said publicly they are studying whether a change would improve their bottom line.

The Kansas City airport, which was one of the first to choose a private security operator, said the biggest difference in using private screeners is the ability to get security issues resolved quickly.

"Unlike a government job, these contract employees can be removed immediately with poor performance, attitude or unsuitability," said Kansas City airport director Mark VanLoh. "It shows in our passenger surveys for customer satisfaction each year."

Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy


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