Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation

Why Didn't Airports Opt Out of TSA

Robert Poole
November 30, 1999

Last month the TSA issued its long-awaited guidelines to implement the provisions of ATSA that allow all airports to request permission to opt out of TSA-provided passenger and baggage screening as of this November. Both TSA and House Aviation Subcommittee chairman John Mica keep repeating the estimate that 25% of all commercial airports may apply. But after reading the guidelines and listening to airport director comments, I’m not so sure.

First, the good news. In the guidelines, TSA acknowledges that its centralized hiring and training of screeners is a problem. Not only is it running a pilot program at Boston Logan to test a more decentralized approach, but it expects that such decisions will be made locally by opt-out airports. Secondly, it promises to give airport directors serious input into the process of selecting a screening contractor for their airport. And third, it is willing to let airports themselves be the security contractor (a model that has been tested over the past two years by the Jackson Hole, WY airport).

But as many airport directors have been quick to point out, the guidelines inadequately address their three most important concerns regarding potential improvements from opting out:

Apart from (perhaps) the liability issues, these revisions appear to be within TSA’s purview in interpreting the opt-out language of the ATSA legislation. According to Airport Security Report (7-14-04), “TSA considers the program guidance a work-in-progress and will continue to release further directions on the program.” Airport directors favoring these suggestions should let TSA and their trade associations know.

Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy

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