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TSA halts expansion of privatized airport screening

Jan. 31, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By STEPHEN LOSEY   |   Comments
Transportation Security Administration officers staff a checkpoint at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole issued a memo stating the agency will not allow more airports to privatize passenger and baggage screeners.
Transportation Security Administration officers staff a checkpoint at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole issued a memo stating the agency will not allow more airports to privatize passenger and baggage screeners. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

The Transportation Security Administration said Friday it will not allow any more airports to privatize their passenger and baggage screening operations.

So far, 16 of the nation's 450 airports have chosen to participate in the Screening Partnership Program and have private contractors serve as screeners. TSA Administrator John Pistole issued a memo Jan. 28 that said the program will not be expanded further "unless a clear and substantial advantage to do so emerges."

Limiting privatization is necessary "to preserve TSA as an effective, federal counterterrorism security network," Pistole said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., a vocal supporter of privatizing airport screening, blasted Pistole's decision and said he plans to investigate TSA's move.

"It's unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we've had over the last decade," Mica said in a statement. "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."

The American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union, which are both vying to represent more than 40,000 TSA screeners, celebrated the news.

"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," AFGE National President John Gage said. "We applaud Administrator Pistole for recognizing the value in a cohesive federalized screening system and work force."

NTEU President Colleen Kelley agreed.

Pistole's decision "keeps this important work in the hands of federal employees, where it belongs," Kelley said in a statement.

Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, also praised the decision.

"Given that security at the handful of airports that have ‘opted out' of the system is no more effective or cost-efficient than at all the other U.S. airports, ending the acceptance of new applications for the program makes sense from a budgetary and counterterrorism perspective," Thompson said in a statement.

The airports in San Francisco, Kansas City, Mo., Key West, Fla., and Sioux Falls, S.D., are among those with privatized screeners.

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